Latest bill would bar NCAA limits on athlete NIL rights

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U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy introduced a bill Thursday that would guarantee college athlete the right to earn money from endorsements and sponsorship deals while barring the NCAA, schools and conferences from imposing restrictions.

The College Athlete Economic Freedom Act is the third piece of legislation related to name, image and likeness compensation for college athletes introduced in Congress since December and second sponsored by Democrats.

The latest bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, focuses on creating a national standard for so-called NIL compensation that would pre-empt the more than two dozen state laws currently in the pipeline. Iowa became the latest state to get in the game, with lawmakers introducing a bill Wednesday they hope will go into effect July 1.

The bill would give college athletes unfettered access to the free market, allow them to organize and make group licensing deals, and hand oversight to the Federal Trade Commission.

“It’s simple: this is about restoring athletes’ ownership over the use of their own names and likeness. They own their brand, not their school or the NCAA,” Murphy said in a statement. “Giving students a right to make money off endorsements is just one part of a much broader package of reforms that need to be made to college athletics, but it’s a good start.”

In December, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, put forth an NIL bill that is narrowly focused like Murphy's, but with numerous restrictions that critics consider too NCAA-friendly.

Wicker's bill would provide antitrust protections to the NCAA, shielding the association from legal challenges to its NIL rules, and allow the association to limit the types of financial agreements for athletes. Murphy's bill provides no such antitrust cover and would punish schools that stand in the way of athletes earning money off their fame.

Last month, the NCAA delayed what was expected to be a landmark vote on NIL legislation after the Justice Department warned the association it could be in danger of violating antitrust laws.

“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," said Trahan, who was a volleyball player for Georgetown.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have also introduced the College Athlete Bill of Rights, which would extend the federal government's reach into intercollegiate athletics far beyond name, image and likeness compensation.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an antitrust case involving the NCAA in March that could ultimately guide where name, image and likeness reform and the definition of amateur athletics is headed.


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