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News Brief | College Athletes Could Get ‘Bill of Rights’

By State Legislatures Magazine Staff | Aug. 21, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

What’s in a name? Money, and potentially lots of it, if you’re a top college athlete who can command compensation for the commercial use of his or her name. Same goes for images and likenesses.

The trouble for media-savvy student-athletes is that current NCAA rules prohibit them from profiting from their NIL—shorthand for names, images and likenesses. That means they can’t sign endorsement deals, sell autographs or memorabilia, earn money for appearances or strike business deals that rely on their association with a college sports program while enrolled in school and on athletic scholarship. 

California tackled the issue head-on with its “Fair Pay to Play” law, enacted in September last year. The law lets student-athletes endorse products and use their name, sport and school to identify themselves, but prevents them from using school logos or other trademarked property in the endorsements.

“This launched a debate about what rights student-athletes have and the rules the NCAA has had in place for decades,” writes NCSL policy specialist Tres York in a recent blog post. “Colorado and Florida followed California by passing similar NIL legislation, while 33 other states have introduced NIL bills.”

The NCAA argues that assorted laws at the state level would lead to a patchwork of NIL rights nationwide. The association produced a model of its own but put the ball in Congress’ court, asking lawmakers to enact national legislation that would “ensure federal preemption over state name, image and likeness laws.”

Congress has responded, York writes, with the Commerce and Judiciary committees both holding hearings on student-athlete compensation and NIL rights in July. The hearings broadened the conversation from NIL to the safety and welfare of college athletes generally, especially during the pandemic.

A group of U.S. senators, led by Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), last week unveiled what they describe as a college athletes bill of rights that would, among other things, give athletes revenue-sharing rights and allow them to market their NIL with minimal restrictions. It also calls for lifetime scholarships and increased financial aid for current and former college athletes with medical bills and other expenses from sports-related injuries as well as illnesses from coronavirus.

Read York’s post for more details about the bill of rights and the NCAA’s response.

Additional NCSL Resources