College athletes will serve as witnesses and top Republicans are not expected to attend a Senate hearing Thursday — two elements that set the hearing apart from the previous six about athlete compensation held over the past 16 months, Sports Illustrated reported.
The absence of Republican lawmakers is a signal of the growing divide between the two sides over a nationwide movement of state laws threatening the equitability of NCAA sports. Whereas some hoped a nationwide NIL policy would be on the books by July 1, the date that several individual state laws take effect, it now appears that no national action will be taken before the end of the calendar year.
SI reported that senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) — the two conservative members of a five-person, bipartisan working group on a possible federal bill to govern how college athletes earn money from their name, image and likeness — will not participate.
College athletes attending Thursday's hearing include Christina Chenault, a former UCLA track and field star who just completed her eligibility; Kaira Brown, a junior sprinter at Vanderbilt; and Sari Cureton, who recently played women’s basketball at Georgetown. The fourth witness is Martin McNair, the father of Jordan McNair, the former Maryland football player who died in 2018 after suffering heat stroke during summer workouts.
Wicker’s office released a statement announcing that he won’t attend Thursday’s hearing, but that he would reach out to athletes directly through an NIL bill survey.
"Student athletes are the essence of college sports, and their voices should be heard in this NIL debate," Wicker said. "Congress needs to develop legislation that protects their welfare as students and maximizes the opportunities for young men and women to participate in the college sports system. While we have had ongoing discussions with student-athletes, I am now reaching out to athletes across the nation to solicit their views on what they would like to see in NIL legislation."
Blackburn’s office confirmed that she, too, would not take part in the hearing.
"Student-athletes should’ve been at the table since the beginning," she said in a statement to SI. "This 'makeup' hearing will not move the ball forward on NIL legislation."
Democrats are pushing for any NIL bill to be broad, encompassing healthcare and educational opportunities for former athletes as well as transfer rights for current players. Republicans want a more narrow bill that only targets policies governing athlete compensation.
Of the 19 states that have passed their own laws governing NIL, six of them take effect July 1. Schools in those states are expected to operate under their state law, which not only differ from one another but also conflict with the NCAA’s own legislation, which is expected to be passed next week.
The NCAA has spent months pleading with lawmakers to create uniformity on the issue by passing a congressional bill. But after months of negotiations, talks between the sides have recently stalled, primarily because of disagreements stemming from the breadth of an NIL bill.
The two sides have gone at least a month without exchanging new material on a bill’s language, legislative aides told SI.
Congress is in the midst of one of its busiest work periods from June through the first week of August. That’s followed by a monthlong fall break. Lawmakers don’t return until mid-September.