WASHINGTON, DC – A new congressional bill gives college athletes the right to enter into collective bargaining agreements to maximize group licensing agreements, while prohibiting schools from restricting college recruits compensation and regulating athlete agents.
The latest congressional legislation governing athlete compensation, written by Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) And Representative Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Allows college athletes the unrestricted use of their name, image and similarity (NIL), penalizing schools. for imposing rules that curb those rights.
The College Athletes Economic Freedom Act is the fifth NIL bill of Congress introduced in the U.S. Capitol in the past year, following a wave of state NIL laws that are about to end the model of NCAA amateurism. Murphy, one of the most outspoken legislators in favor of athletes’ rights, has harshly criticized the NCAA for its archaic policies, sometimes defining them as violations of civil rights.
As expected, his bill is not friendly to the governing body of college athletics, but it is not as expansive in nature as the College Athletes Bill of Rights, released in December by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) And Cory Booker (DN. J.). In a way, Murphy’s bill is a Democratic-leaning version of a bipartisan bill introduced in the fall by Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio). Two other right-wing bills have also been introduced, by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
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In due course, the College Athletes Economic Freedom Act was announced two days after EA Sports announced the eventual return of its popular college football video game. The bill would give athletes the ability to enter into group licensing agreements, allowing their names to be used in activities such as video games and the sale of shirts.
“Top-tier college athletics doesn’t look any different than professional leagues, and it’s time we stopped denying college athletes the right to earn money from their talents,” Murphy said in announcing the bill. “If predominantly white coaches and NCAA executives can have unrestricted endorsement deals, why shouldn’t predominantly black athletes be given the same opportunity?”
In an athlete-friendly provision, the bill gives college recruits open access to NIL rights, prohibiting the NCAA, schools, and conferences from creating guardrails that restrict potential athletes’ compensation. This concept touches the heart of the intense debate over NIL, and the NCAA fears that without guardrails, schools will use NIL as a way to win a recruit’s commitment. The legislation gives athletes the ability to retain agents to close NIL deals and prohibits the NCAA from regulating the representation of any athlete, another sticking point with college administrators.
In a unique concept, the Murphy legislation allows universities to work directly with athletes, if they so choose, rather than only allowing NIL agreements through third parties.
The bill does not give the NCAA any antitrust protection and, in fact, includes antitrust penalties if the university, conferences, and the NCAA violate the law. Violators would have little defense or opposition to an antitrust lawsuit for denying athletes opportunities. The bill gives athletes a private right of action to take civil action against violators and authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to enact penalties for “unfair or deceptive practices” against violators.
The legislation provides a provision that the NCAA has asked of Congress: it preempts state laws that govern the NIL.
At least six states have passed NIL legislation, while another 30 have introduced or are seriously exploring passing their own bills. Iowa became the last on Wednesday. California state law in 2019 sparked the movement now sweeping across the United States for the rights of college athletes. Florida’s state law, passed last year, will be the first to go into effect on July 1.
While states are accelerating NIL, the NCAA and Congress are lagging behind in creating their own legislation. The NCAA was expected to pass groundbreaking NIL legislation in January, but has delayed the measure in light of a Supreme Court case (Alston v. NCAA) that could affect the organization’s rules on amateurism and antitrust. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the Alston case on March 31 and issue a ruling no later than the end of June.
Meanwhile, Congress, while contemplating a federal solution, is overwhelmed by a number of other more important issues, such as the economy and COVID-19. There is also a deep division on the issue between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
States are taking over and their NIL bills are expected to grant more freedoms to athletes than any NCAA proposal. It sets up a potential litigation showdown this summer when the college sports governing body tries to block or delay states like Florida from having their universities adhere to more liberal state laws.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.