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Democrats make new push for college athlete compensation

Posted February 4, 2021 5:52 p.m. EST

— Another effort aimed at ensuring college athletes make money off their names, images and likenesses was introduced by Democratic lawmakers on Thursday.

The College Athlete Economic Freedom Act, sponsored by Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts and Connecticut's Sen. Chris Murphy, is the latest push for legislative action amid a debate on athlete compensation under a new Congress. It comes as the coronavirus pandemic has upended college sports and many teams face postponements and cancellations because of Covid-related issues. The name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation does not have bipartisan support.

It is similar to the push for college athlete compensation in the "College Athlete Bill of Rights," a bill led by Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and supported by Murphy that was introduced in the Senate in December. But if enacted, the NIL legislation would give college athletes more control over the use of their NIL and provide a framework for prospective college athletes to also get compensated for their names, images and likenesses.

College athletes would be able to "market the use of their name, image, likeness, or athletic reputation individually and as a group" because the bill would prohibit the National Collegiate Athletic Association, colleges and conferences from creating rules that restrict how current and prospective athletes use their NIL.

Colleges and conferences would also be prevented from regulating the "legal, financial, or agency representation of college athletes and prospective college athletes with respect to the marketing of their names, images, likenesses, or athletic reputations, including the certification of such legal, financial, or agency representation," the text of the bill reads.

It calls for equitable opportunities for college athletes to market their NIL by directing the NCAA, colleges and conferences to make "support accessible to all college athletes in the applicable athletic program, regardless of gender, race, or participating sport."

The bill would also prohibit colleges, conferences and the NCAA from preventing college athletes from forming "a collective representative to facilitate group licensing agreements or provide representation for college athletes," a move that would allow athletes' NIL to be featured in video games and used on apparel.

Trahan, who received a scholarship to play women's volleyball at Georgetown University, said in a statement Thursday that the NCAA's business model for decades "has utilized the guise of amateurism to justify obscene profitability while student athletes have struggled to get by."

"As leaders at the NCAA finally come to grips with the need for change, it's important that Congress enact reforms to establish and protect student-athletes' right to be compensated for the use of their name, image, likeness, or athletic association," she said.

Murphy echoed Trahan on Thursday and said, "It's time for us to stop denying the right of college athletes to make money off their talents."

Donald Remy, the NCAA's chief legal officer, told CNN on Thursday that the association "will work with all interested members of Congress to help advance our shared interest to assure the American tradition of college athletics thrives in the 21st century and athletes are successful on the field, in the classroom and in life."

"The NCAA remains committed to modernizing its rules to enhance the college athlete experience, including allowing name, image and likeness opportunities similar to scenarios available to other students on campus," Remy said in a statement.

Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green, who is a CNN contributor, applauded the new legislation as "game-changing for the players."

"Covid-19 has proven how college athletes are anything but amateur. College sports generates $15 billion every year for everyone except the athletes actually playing the game. It's slave labor in a downright dictatorship," Green said Thursday. "I've seen firsthand just how backwards the NCAA's likeness restrictions for college athletes are and how myself and my teammates struggled to make ends meet."

A jump through hoops on college athlete compensation

Multiple bills have been introduced in Congress since 2019 to address college athlete compensation but didn't pass, including Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's "Fairness in Collegiate Athletics Act," which called for the NCAA to implement rules for college athletes to be compensated by third parties for their names, images and likenesses by June 30, 2021. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican who's a former NFL player, along with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, also introduced bipartisan legislation aiming to compensate college athletes.

In October 2019, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses once its three divisions -- Division I, Division II and Division III -- decide on the rules for the opportunities.

And the Supreme Court agreed in December to hear an appeal by the NCAA of a lower court ruling that allowed colleges to compensate athletes for education-related expenses, though the justices haven't yet heard arguments in the case.

The NCAA has argued that additional compensation beyond scholarships blurs the line between college and professional sports. The association also said its rules are necessary to maintain the tradition of amateurism in college sports.

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