The Washington Post

Senators are divided on issue of athlete pay


Warning of a looming threat to amateur sports, college athletics leaders urged Congress on Wednesday to take bipartisan action as states prepare to allow athletes to earn money from their names and personal brands.

But with only weeks before some state laws take effect, senators appeared deeply divided over how quickly to act and what federal legislatio­n should look like — leaving the NCAA potentiall­y on its own as athletes, schools and conference­s try to navigate a shifting landscape.

Amid mounting public and political pressure to grant college athletes more rights, the NCAA has struggled for years to grant “name, image and likeness” rights to athletes, allowing them to make money from autographs, sponsorshi­ps, licensing and other

deals that leverage their popularity. In the meantime, more than 20 states have passed laws of their own. In five states, those laws will go into effect July 1, potentiall­y creating chaos for NCAA oversight and college athletic department­s.

In Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transporta­tion, Republican lawmakers mostly spoke in favor of urgent legislatio­n built to appease the NCAA and member colleges worried about the fallout from conflictin­g state laws.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “We need to come up with something in fairly short order.”

But Democrats made it clear they wanted to use the moment to pass a broad bill focused on colleges athletes’ rights, with fewer concession­s to colleges. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N. J.) urged lawmakers to use the bill to address gender equity, health care and athlete exploitati­on.

“Some people want to make this process as simple as possible and pass a narrow piece of legislatio­n as the July 1 deadline comes that’s a threat to sports as we know it,” Booker said. “I’m saying we cannot do that.”

Most state bills have passed with bipartisan support, with states jockeying to pass expansive rules that will allow them to more easily recruit athletes. But on a federal level, the propositio­n of bipartisan legislatio­n is far trickier.

Senate aides involved in recent negotiatio­ns said Republican­s and Democrats still remain far apart on key issues, such as athletes’ scholarshi­ps and medical care, and the question of whether states should be able to pass laws that offer athletes more rights than federal legislatio­n. Democrats see less of a time crunch than some Republican­s, aides said, and are more willing to let conflictin­g state laws take effect without congressio­nal action.

At the root of the hearing Wednesday was the NCAA’S failure to pass rules that govern name, image and likeness. The organizati­on’s board of governors, which is made up of member colleges, has struggled for years to agree on what such rules would look like.

“It is disappoint­ing that the Board of Governors chose not to vote on these rules,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-tenn.) said Wednesday of the NCAA’S decision to table its latest proposal. “We’re here because of an NCAA that cannot seem to make up its mind.”

Mark Emmert, the organizati­on’s president, said at the hearing that the board was finally prepared to vote on standards before the next school year. But he warned that an NCAA standard would not alleviate the need for federal law.

Without congressio­nal action, the patchwork of state laws would “undermine the NCAA’S model of amateur athletics,” he said, claiming they would turn athletes into employees of an institutio­n and spell the “end of nonrevenue sports.”

Emmert and the NCAA are facing unpreceden­ted pressure even beyond the issue of name, image and likeness rules. A major Supreme Court decision on the NCAA’S ability to limit compensati­on for athletes is expected before the end of the month. And early results of an outside investigat­ion into gender discrimina­tion at its basketball championsh­ips, which also attracted congressio­nal scrutiny, will be released in July.

 ?? ANNA MONEYMAKER/GETTY IMAGES ?? NCAA President Mark Emmert said his board would vote on standards but that they would not alleviate the need for federal law.
ANNA MONEYMAKER/GETTY IMAGES NCAA President Mark Emmert said his board would vote on standards but that they would not alleviate the need for federal law.

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