Booker, Democratic lawmakers introduce NCAA reform bill

Sports
Mark Emmert

FILE – In this Feb. 11, 2020, file photo, NCAA President Mark Emmert testifies during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on intercollegiate athlete compensation on Capitol Hill in Washington. NCAA President Mark Emmert hopes lessons learned through navigating the pandemic will lead college sports leaders to be more open-minded to future reforms and to prioritize opportunities for athletes when it comes time to cut costs. In a 25-minute phone interview Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 with The Associated Press, Emmert said the NCAA and its members schools have shown an uncommon ability to be nimble and responsive in addressing issues of eligibility, scheduling, recruiting, transfers, and conducting championship events.. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

A bill introduced Thursday by four Democratic lawmakers would grant college athletes sweeping rights to compensation, including a share of the revenue generated by their sports, and create a federal commission to oversee college athletics.

The College Athletes Bill of Rights is sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). If passed, it could wreak havoc on the NCAA’s ability to govern intercollegiate athletics and the association’s model for amateurism.

The announcement of the bill comes a day after theSupreme Court agreed to review a court ruling the NCAA says blurs the “line between student-athletes and professionals” by removing caps on certain compensation that major college football and basketball players can receive.

The NCAA has turned to Congress for help as it works toward permitting athletes to earn money from endorsements and sponsorship deals, while also trying to fend off myriad state-level bills that would undercut any attempt to create uniform rules for competing schools.

Last week, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced a bill that would allow college athletes to be paid for their names, images and likenesses, with oversight from the Federal Trade Commission. The bill also protects the NCAA from future antitrust challenges to its compensation rules.

Booker and Blumenthal’s bill, however, goes way beyond NIL rights for athletes and is not nearly as NCAA-friendly.

“As a former college athlete, these issues are deeply personal to me,” said Booker, who played football at Stanford. “The NCAA has exploited generations of college athletes for its own personal financial gain by preventing athletes from earning any meaningful compensation and failing to keep the athletes under its charge healthy and safe.”

The legislation would allow college athletes to earn money off their names, images and likenesses with minimal restrictions, through either individual or group licensing deals.

It would also require schools to share 50% of the profit from their revenue-generating sports such as football and basketball with the athletes who play them, after the cost of scholarships are deducted.

Some of the biggest athletic departments in the country, such as Ohio State, Alabama and Texas, generate more than $100 million in revenue annually, the bulk of which comes from football and men’s basketball. Almost all of that revenue typically gets sunk back into the athletic departments to pay for not just those programs, but all the other non-revenue sports.

The concept of schools directly paying athletes has been a nonstarter for the NCAA and would be considered a radical change. Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon told AP Thursday night that he doesn’t understand why such a structure would be thought of as controversial.

“Well, there’s college coaches across the country making millions of dollars and that’s not controversial, making off the backs of college athletes that are unpaid,” Bohannon said in a phone interview. “We have a game on Christmas Day and our families can’t even go to the game and we have to play, theoretically making money for these TV contracts that (conferences) signed. It blows my mind.”

Bohannon said during the pandemic college athletes, who are tested multiple times a week for COVID-19, have become essential workers.

The bill also would:

— Create what it calls “enforceable” health and safety standards for athletes developed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Schools would subject to fines that could be worth millions if standards are not met.

— Establish a medical trust fund athletes can access for five years after leaving school.

— Guarantee college athletes’ scholarships for as many years as it takes them to receive an undergraduate degree and ban coaches and staff from influencing academic choices such as majors and courses.

— Remove restrictions on athletes who transfer from one school to another and penalties for breaking a national letter of intent, and allow athletes to return to school after entering a draft within seven days of that draft.

— Require athletic departments to annually disclose revenues and expenditures, including salaries of department personnel.

— Establish a nine-member Commission on College Athletics, appointed by the president, that would include at least five former college athletes and individuals with legal expertise. The commission would take over much of the job of overseeing college sports from the NCAA, enforcing rules laid out in the law with subpoena power to investigate violations.

The NCAA will vote next month on legislation that will permit athletes to be compensated for their names, images and likenesses for the first time, but with some restrictions.

Athletes would not be allowed to use school logos and marks in their commercial ventures; an individual’s endorsement deals could not conflict with those of his or her school; and athletes will not be permitted to enter into financial arrangements with companies that provide services or sell goods that conflict with NCAA legislation — such as gambling, alcohol or banned substances.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said last week the association can’t move forward with legislation until it has a “legal framework within which to do it.”

“So we need Congress to act, but we’re also trying to signal to everybody that we’re ready for this and we’re going to move forward if we possibly can,” Emmert said. “It’s the right thing to do, but we need to do it in a way that supports college athletics and it’s not destructive.”

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