At NIL Hearing, Lawmakers Seek Broader NCAA Reforms

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During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, lawmakers demanded the NCAA go beyond athlete compensation and develop full-scale reform for college athletics, even requesting president Mark Emmert present Congress with a more broad set of modifications to the organization’s archaic policies.

As reported by Sports Illustrated, Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) drew upon his time as a tight end at Stanford University to scold Emmert and the NCAA for not enforcing proper health-and-safety standards and for not seeing that athletes are graduating.

“The time has come for substantive reforms,” Booker said. “The NCAA has failed generations of young men and women even when it comes to the most basic responsibility: keeping the athletes under their charge safe and healthy.”

The NCAA first requested help from Congress on an NIL bill in December, seeking a federal uniform standard that will preempt differing state NIL laws, SI reported. The request has led lawmakers, having now participated in three athlete-compensation hearings, to seek reform related to other NCAA matters. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), chastised Emmert for the NCAA’s lack of universal and long-term healthcare for athletes.

The previous two NIL hearings were hosted by the Senate Commerce Committee, where the chairman expects an NIL bill to move through later this year. As SI reported, Wednesday's two-hour hearing brought into the athlete compensation realm a new player: the Senate Judiciary Committee and its chairman, Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).

Graham says the committee is starting a working group to craft a basic rights package for college athletes, with a deadline of Sept. 15. The group appears to be led by Blumenthal and Booker, who have already partnered on a bill that prevents colleges from requiring COVID-19 waivers. Booker and Blumenthal, also part of the Commerce Committee, are working with a handful of other lawmakers in creating NIL legislation, but their to-do list doesn't end there.

“This pandemic has highlighted the need to enact health and safety protections,” Blumenthal says. “Schools are rushing to bring athletes back to campus. We are watching a slow-motion potential catastrophe.”

Emmert denounced the COVID-19 waivers that some schools are requiring athletes to sign before they return to campus, calling them “inappropriate,” and he made clear his support for a proposal that allows athletes to transfer once without losing a year of eligibility. He also Emmert acknowledged that he supports what’s called a “scholarship for life,” where athletes may later return to get their degrees.

On the issue of athlete compensation, 

Booker and Blumenthal attacked the NCAA Power 5’s NIL proposal for being too restrictive. SI obtained a copy of a summary of the legislation, which includes a host of restrictions: athletes cannot sign endorsement deals until they complete their first semester of college; athletes can be barred by their schools from entering into certain NIL ventures; and all NIL contracts with businesses and agents must be made public.

Lawmakers took exception specifically to schools having the authority to prohibit certain types of endorsement deals. The NCAA's own proposal is similar to the Power 5’s plan, says Booker. “The proposal is so restrictive that it would prevent college athletes from receiving any endorsement deals from any organization that doesn’t have an existing or prospective contract with their institution or with any of their competitors,” he said. “The NCAA proposal isn’t only similarly restrictive but it actually sunsets after 10 years, effectively blocking individual states from making progress on NIL only to put us back here in another 10 years.”

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