new federal law unveiled Thursday would make it illegal for the NCAA or other sports leagues to impose restrictions on the type or size of agreements athletes can sign in the future.
The bill, co-sponsored by Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) and Congresswoman Laurie Trahan (D-Massachusetts), is the latest in a series of national bills to help university athletes make money and reform a multi-billion dollar university sports industry that some members of Congress believe is fundamentally unfair. To date, this proposal is the only option that does not give Congress, the NCAA or any other agency the ability to regulate products that athletes can endorse.
“Varsity sports is no different than professional leagues, and it’s time we stopped denying varsity athletes the right to make money with their talents,” Murphy said, adding that he sees the current NCAA rules as a civil rights issue. “If predominantly white coaches and NCAA managers can get unlimited support, why not give predominantly black athletes the same opportunity.”
The new bill also specifically prohibits the NCAA or conferences from doing anything that would prevent athletes from organizing into a group under collective representation for their licensing rights. This type of group licensing is usually required to negotiate media rights, jersey sales and items such as video games such as the college football game that EA Sports tried to relaunch Earlier this week
To date, the NCAA has opposed the organization of athletes for any form of group licensing activity.
NCAA President Mark Emmert and other university sports leaders have asked Congress for help in creating uniform national rules that dictate how athletes can benefit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). These leaders want to create “safeguards” that they say will prevent NIL payments from degenerating into barely disguised salaries that cross the line between amateur and professional sports.
Murphy and Trahan, who played volleyball at Georgetown, feel that the NCAA has long since crossed the professional line.
“As a former Division I athlete, I know all too well the Business model of the NCAA, which for decades used an amateur mask to justify obscene profits while student-athletes struggled to perform,” Trahan said Thursday in a statement.
Murphy told ESPN that he considers it unlikely that Congress will be able to pass a bill on college sports in the first six months of the year. Therefore, it is likely that some state NIL laws will be passed before the national plan goes into effect.
Florida has already passed legislation that would make current NCAA rules illegal in that state as of July 1. Four other states are also considering legislation that would take effect at the same time.
The NCAA argues that the varying laws of the states, many of which have unique differences, will create a chaotic environment in which schools operate under different rules and potential athletes will be able to choose their school based on the state in which they are most likely to be paid for promotional contracts.
The association has stated that it intends to change its rules in October 2019. However, they missed the deadline to vote on the proposed changes last month and it is unclear when they will move forward. The NCAA’s last proposal was much more restrictive on athletes than most state and federal legislative options.
“I wasn’t going to support what the NCAA did, so I’m not going to shed a tear over the NCAA’s decision to defer,” Murphy told ESPN. “They’ll never be able to deal with it. I think there’s something to be said for letting the various laws take effect so we can see if the sky is falling, as the NCAA says it will.
The bill introduced by Murphy and Trahan will be considered along with other legislation that provides a range of opportunities for Congress to be involved in determining the future of college sports.
Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal introduced a bill in December that calls for sweeping changes beyond fees and compensation rights. Republican Senators Roger Wicker and Marco Rubio each introduced a bill that would give NCAA officials more leeway to determine the restrictions needed to maintain amateurism in college sports. Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) also introduced a detailed proposal that would open the door to NIL payments while placing some restrictions on the types of products athletes can endorse.
The Murphy and Trahan bill also states that any services a school or conference provides to athletes to help them maximize their NIL potential must be available to all athletes within its sphere of influence. In other words, if a school hires a consultant to market its soccer stars, all other athletes in the school must be given the same opportunity.
The bill also provides for an annual report, funded by the federal government to estimate how much money university athletes make from approved contracts and to break it down by race, gender and sport for market analysis.