WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Congress could be the new referee for college sports.
On the heels of California passing its own law to pay NCAA athletes, a Senate committee heard Tuesday from the association, along with university and conference leaders, about what a federal standard would look like.
“The NCAA is late to this game,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT.
Blumenthal said the NCAA, which makes about $1 billion a year, has dropped the ball and should be compensating student athletes.
“The present state of college sports is exploitative,” Blumenthal told the committee.
To make the NCAA act faster, Blumenthal encouraged more states to pass laws like California’s to allow athletes to profit off their names, images and likenesses (NIL) without risking their scholarships or eligibility. About 30 states are weighing competing proposals.
Ramogi Huma, the executive director of the National College Players Association, has been behind many of them.
“College athletes shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice their economic freedom and rights,” Huma said.
Huma told lawmakers it’s a job the states can handle, but NCAA President Mark Emmert wants a uniform standard.
“Different laws from various states will create an uneven and unfair playing field for our schools and student athletes,” Emmert said.
The NCAA’s three divisions house more than a thousand schools and almost half a million student athletes.
Members of Congress are working on multiple ways to develop federal legislation, including former Ohio State football player, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-OH.
“An award-winning, full-scholarship chemist can accept any financial rewards that may come her way, but the fastest runner on the track team cannot,” Gonzalez said.
However, Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, argued the changes would only benefit a small percentage of college athletes.
“College sports is not a vocation, and the participants are not employees,” Bowlsby said. “Professional sports offer this arrangement.”
As the NCAA’s biggest money maker, March Madness, is sure to bring even more attention to the issue, lawmakers are not confident they will be able to agree on a slew of tax, antitrust and gender equity changes to pass a federal standard this year.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-MS, said he didn’t know if a proposed NIL law would be the answer in all categories of the two dozen NCAA sports.
“We have to figure out the fairest way to make sure that no one is left out,” Wicker said.
California’s law won’t take effect for three years, but Florida could implement a similar one in July. The NCAA gave itself a 2021 deadline for new rules and asked Congress to help create a timeline for states to allow the association to complete its work.