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Athlete Bill of Rights Could Remake College Sports

Jason Scott

A new proposal introduced by U.S. senator Cory Booker has the potential to remake college sports as we know them.

According to ESPN, the College Athlete Bill of Rights would bring sweeping changes to college sports, far beyond recent measures regarding name, image and likeness use. Among the changes in the proposal are student-athlete revenue sharing, guaranteed lifetime scholarships for athletes in good academic standing, health and safety rules enforceable by fines, and a fund to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for both current and former athletes. Additional provisions outline more athlete-friendly rules regarding transferring and testing the waters of professional drafts.

A new Commission on College Athletics — with nine members appointed by the President — would be responsible for enforcing the rules and requirements in the bill. 

"This is one of the few industries in America that is allowed to exploit those who are responsible for generating most of the revenue," Booker told ESPN. "I feel like the federal government has a role and responsibility that we've been shirking in terms of protecting athletes and ensuring their safety. I just really believe there is an urgency here that has not been met for decades and decades. We need to step up and do something about it."

Booker, a former football player at Stanford, said that he spoke with many current and former athletes, as well as other key figures in the college sports world, as the bill was being constructed. The bill will likely face pushback — including from the NCAA. The proposal is also just one piece of draft legislation lawmakers are considering regarding college sports, with most others narrowly focused on the types of endorsement agreements student-athletes would be allowed to sign, or the types of restrictions colleges and the NCAA would be allowed to enforce. 

As Sports Illustrated reports, other entities are pushing the envelope with their own proposals specifically focused on name, image and likeness. Congress may pass an NIL bill of its own, while several states have adopted similar measures. Even the NCAA itself is crafting new rules around NIL that could be passed as early as January. 

So far, Booker’s bill has only co-sponsors from within his own party: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Janice Schakowsky. Despite this, Booker told ESPN there has been encouraging signs from his colleagues on the other side of the aisle. 

"I'm cautiously optimistic that using this framework, we can build support for real substantive changes in how the NCAA operates," Booker said.

Blumenthal echoed that optimism, saying, “The provisions in this bill are ambitions and consequential but also practical. These are ideas whose time has come.”

While the fate of the bill is unclear at the moment, what’s certain is that leaders in Washington have been unimpressed with the NCAA’s stewardship of the student-athletes it claims to protect.

“I have grown dissatisfied with the NCAA’s talk of a lot of reforms and their failure to implement them,” Booker. “They’ve failed to police themselves and protect athletes as they should.”

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