Senate Bill Would Allow Payment for College Student Athletes

December 15, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
Texas head coach Tom Herman, center, walks on the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

WASHINGTON — Student athletes would get a big opportunity to earn income from their sports under a bill introduced in the Senate last week.

The proposed legislation would allow them to strike up contracts with advertisers to use their names or images to promote products and services.

“A nationwide framework governing student athlete name, image and likeness compensation is necessary to preserve competition, protect student athletes and maintain the academic integrity of collegiate institutions,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who authored the bill.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has insisted that college sports remain a predominantly amateur endeavor. The NCAA is a nonprofit organization that regulates college sports for as many as 1,268 American institutions and conferences.

It prefers student athletes who are attracted by their fondness for the games but who would not be diverted by sports from their more important studies.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., acknowledged the complexities of balancing higher education with sports during a July 1 Senate hearing to discuss payment for student athletes.

“Despite its complexity, it is impossible to ignore the simple facts that these athletes do produce billions of dollars of value for the NCAA and member institutions and aren’t able to market themselves as other athletes,” Cantwell said. 

Several lawsuits have challenged the NCAA on antitrust grounds over the past 20 years. They have largely failed to overcome the NCAA’s authority.

Wicker’s bill would change that.

It would replace some of the NCAA’s power over college sports with Federal Trade Commission oversight of compensation for athletes.

The Federal Trade Commission would be directed to choose a non-profit organization to administer rules on compensation from advertisers and sports agents. The bill would set a standard system for ensuring the student athletes are paid fairly.

Other portions of the bill seek to educate athletes about their business opportunities and about how to avoid deceptive practices.

The Collegiate Athlete Compensation Rights Act is tinged with a recognition of the challenge faced by college students and athletes.

As the cost of higher education soars, many potential students are being shut out of advancing their careers by the price of obtaining a degree. 

More than 45 million U.S. student loan borrowers have amassed $1.6 trillion in educational debt after decades of government disinvestment in public higher education, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. Instead, the costs have been shifted to students and their families.

So far, efforts to reduce the debt burden have included state tax credits for borrowers, refinancing plans and loan forgiveness for graduates who work in fields such as health care and education.

President-elect Joe Biden has proposed a standard loan forgiveness of $10,000 for all student debt borrowers.

Money paid to student athletes under the Collegiate Athlete Compensation Rights Act would vary widely, depending on their sports, notoriety and the promotional contracts they win.

The NCAA issued a statement this month saying it also is trying to develop new guidelines for compensating student athletes.

“The nearly 1,100 presidents of NCAA schools have consistently sought to create the most effective and fair ways to support student athletes,” the statement says. “Presently, the NCAA is discussing the long-term sustainability of intercollegiate athletics.”

The organization plans to announce new rules that would allow student athletes to earn money from endorsements as soon as next month.

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