A new federal bill introduced Thursday will make it illegal for the NCAA or other university athletic associations to place any restrictions on the type or size of endorsement deals college athletes can sign in the future.
The bill, co-authored by Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat from Connecticut) and Representative Lori Trahan (Democrat from Massachusetts), is the latest in a series of proposed national laws aimed at helping college athletes earn money and reform the multi-billion dollar college sports industry that Many members of Congress believe it is fundamentally unfair. This proposal is the only option so far that does not provide any means for Congress, the NCAA, or any other governing body to regulate products athletes can endorse.
“College athletics are no different from professional championships, and it is time for us to stop denying the right of college athletes to make money from their talents,” said Murphy, who said he saw the current NCAA rules as a civil rights issue. . “If the predominantly white coaches and CEOs of the NCAA can strike untied endorsement deals, then why not give the same opportunity to the predominantly black athletes?”
The new bill also specifically prohibits the NCAA or conferences from doing anything that would prevent athletes from organizing under collective representation to sell their licensing rights as a group. Typically, this type of group licensing is necessary to bargain over media rights, T-shirt sales, and items like video games, like the college football video game that EA Sports announced its plan to revive earlier this week.
The NCAA has so far been opposed to the possibility of athletes organizing any type of group licensing activity.
National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert, and other university athletic leaders have asked Congress for help in developing national standardized rules outlining how athletes can benefit from their names, images, and likeness (none). These leaders want the ability to create “buffers” that they say will prevent zero payments from becoming poorly padded salaries that go beyond the line between amateur and professional sports.
Murphy and Trahan, who both played volleyball in Georgetown, believe the NCAA crossed the line into professionalism long ago.
“As a former Division 1 athlete, I am very familiar with the NCAA business model that for decades has used amateur cover to justify outrageous profitability as student-athletes struggle for survival,” Trahan said in a statement on Thursday.
Murphy told ESPN he believes it is unlikely that Congress will be able to work on college sports law in the first six months of the year. This makes it likely that some of the NIL’s state laws will go into effect before a national plan is put in place.
Florida has already passed a law that will make the current NCAA rules illegal in the state starting July 1. Four other states are also considering legislation that will take effect at the same time.
The NCAA has argued that a variety of state laws, many of which have unique differences, would create a chaotic environment where schools operate under different rules and potential athletes may choose their schools based on the state that gives them the best chance to cash in on the endorsement deals.
The association announced its intention to change its own rules in October 2019. However, they missed the self-set deadline to vote on the proposed changes last month and it is not clear when they will go forward. The most recent NCAA proposal has been more restrictive to athletes than most federal and state legislative options.
“I wasn’t going to support what the NCAA did, so I’m not going to cry about the board’s decision to postpone,” Murphy told ESPN. “They will never be able to deal with this. I think there is an argument that needs to be made to allow different state laws to apply so that we can see if the sky is falling as the NCAA says.”
The bill presented by Murphy and Trahan will be considered alongside other legislation that offers a range of options for how deeply Congress has been involved in shaping the future of college sport.
Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal proposed a bill in December calling for sweeping changes beyond compensation and zero rights. Both Republican senators Roger Wicker and Marco Rubio have proposed bills that provide more leeway for NCAA leaders to define the restrictions needed to keep hobbyists in college sports. Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R from Ohio) has also put forward a detailed proposal that would open the door to nothing payouts while placing some restrictions on the types of products athletes can endorse.
Murphy and Trahan’s bill also states that any services a school or conference provides for athletes to help them make the most of their NIL potential should be available to all athletes under their jurisdiction. In other words, if a school hires a counselor to help build the football star brands, then all of the other athletes in the school should have the same opportunity.
The bill also calls for an annual report, funded by the federal government, to assess how much money college athletes are making from endorsement deals and break down that data by race, gender and sport for market analysis.