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Booker’s “College Athlete Bill of Rights” rights the wrongs of the NCAA

By Austin Turner

After years of mounting pressures to reform its Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) policy, the NCAA finally moved toward allowing its student-athletes to earn money from endorsements in April. But arguments are far from over as the NCAA, state, and federal governments wrestle over how to implement new regulations.

While the NCAA is expected to vote on its own NIL proposal sometime in January, Sen. Cory Booker has other plans. The New Jersey Democrat and former Stanford football player teamed up with Sen. Richard Blumenthal to propose the “College Athlete Bill of Rights” in December.

The proposed bill would create a number of dramatic changes to the current collegiate sports model. It would remove virtually all restrictions to current NIL policies, increase financial assistance with medical costs, give athletes lifetime scholarships, and provide a revenue split for the “revenue sports.” This would ultimately give athletes a 50/50 split with the university for the revenue created by their sport.

The bill is a significant departure from other proposals like California’s SB-206 and Florida’s SB-646. Those bills both allow student-athletes to profit from endorsements but stop short of forcing individual universities to split revenue with athletes. While the bills in both states were given mostly bi-partisan support in their respective legislatures, Booker and Blumenthal’s proposal will likely face Republican opposition and rebuke from NCAA-affiliated universities because of the revenue-splitting aspect.

It is safe to say, however, that the approval of the “College Athlete Bill of Rights” would completely alter the state of college athletics if it were to gain full approval.

Player empowerment

The proposal is objectively the most beneficial option for NCAA student-athletes. Contrary to California, Florida, and the NCAA’s proposal, the Bill of Rights would guarantee a portion of revenue to all athletes in the revenue-generating sports (football, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball at most schools).

Revenue-splitting is the most likely provision in the bill to be eliminated in potential negotiations in the Senate. But the compromise would likely lead to group licensing, which is also included in the bill.

Group licensing would allow athletes to enter agreements to license their NIL to outside entities. Players could allow jerseys and apparel to be sold bearing their name or face, or agree to appear in video games like the late (and great) NCAA Football series which was discontinued in 2014.

For the first time since the establishment of the NCAA in 1906, student-athletes would have the right to market and profit off of their own name, rather than be owned and sold by their University.

The NCAA reported in their annual finance report that member institution athletic departments generated approximately $10.6 billion in 2019. Aside from athletic scholarships, the athletes saw none of those dollars.

With the “College Athlete Bill of Rights” would also come modern labor standards for young men and women in an industry that can afford to share a chunk of the profits.

What’s next?

From the college athlete perspective — or an empathetic human onet — the “College Athlete Bill of Rights” is a welcome addition that is decades late. But how would it change the collegiate athletics landscape now?

As it stands, recruiting in the revenue sports is largely based on success for top-tier athletes. It’s rare to see a five-star football recruit commit to a school that merely aspires to a national championship win. In women’s basketball, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Stanford draw the top recruits year-in and year-out.

The NCAA’s capitalistic characteristics have carried over to recruiting. The rich get richer, hence why the teams holding the trophy at the end have little incentive to change.

The “College Athlete Bill of Rights” could turn this sentiment on its head. When the top recruits sit down with their families to choose the school that best fits their future, there will be additional conversations to be had. Where can they best market themselves? Which markets will turn out to be the most well-resourced?

Suddenly the financial situations of the universities and the surrounding areas will matter to athletes. Local businesses will certainly shell out cash for athlete endorsements in many sports-crazed markets, and potential recruits will need to consider these factors f.

Despite its obvious benefits, the “College Athlete Bill of Rights” has a steep hill to climb in Congress. It will almost certainly face aggressive opposition from Senate Republicans and university administrators looking to continue gleaning  free-labor from their athletes. What also is for certain is that the bill is a blueprint for the government and athletes to keep pressure on the NCAA. If there’s something we’ve learned in the last year, it’s that the NCAA will cave to overwhelming pressure, so the more athletes that push this legislation, the likelier that we will see overdue change in collegiate athletics.

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