The age-old debate over whether college athletes should get paid is still alive and well. But in this game of tug-of-war, it seems as though the argument for paying student-athletes may finally have the leverage it needs to win.
On Dec. 17, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the College Athletics Bill of Rights. Over the years, various bills and initiatives to increase privileges and rights for student-athletes competing in the NCAA have rolled out, but none as comprehensive and forward-thinking as this.
Here is a look at what the NCAA currently has in place, what the College Athletics Bill of Rights would change, and how it will affect student-athletes in the long run.
Why student-athletes are not paid currently
Under the current NCAA rules, student-athletes must maintain amateur athletic status. This means that college athletes cannot receive payment for playing a sport, funding to offset training expenses, accept prize money based on performance, be represented or marketed by a sports agent or professional, promote or endorse commercial products and much more.
If the rules stated above do not make it hard enough for student-athletes to make money, one in particular truly puts the hammer on any chance they would have to generate revenue. That rule is that student-athletes cannot make money off their name, image, or likeness (NIL).
The NIL rule means Trevor Lawrence, former quarterback at Clemson, did not make money from the images of him plastered all over the southeast and across the country. It means that Jalen Suggs, guard for Gonzaga, cannot walk into any establishment and receive an item or service for anything less than the regular price because people recognize him. It also means that Rianna Davis, forward for Tennessee, cannot let any company use her name as a marketing ploy to get more customers.
As you can see, for many athletes, this can be limiting. They cannot reap the benefits of their athletic ability and notoriety, but others can. For years, the beneficiaries have been their schools and the NCAA.
What the College Athletics Bill of Rights would change
Under the College Athletics Bill of Rights, there would be significant changes to the distribution of money in college sports. Most notably, student-athletes would get a cut of the division’s profit from their revenue-generating sport after their scholarship is deducted. Keep in mind this only pertains to sports where the revenue from the season exceeds the cost of scholarships across the entire division. The only sports that meet that criteria are football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball. The profits generated for each sport would be equally shared among the scholarship athletes of that sport.
In addition to sharing the profit the school and division generate, athletes will be allowed to sign brand deals and participate in endorsements. Under this bill, athletes would no longer be restricted on the type or brand of shoe they wear to mandatory team activities. This opens the door to endorsement deals that have never been possible.
It’s about more than just money
While this bill strikes a chord with many because it tackles the evergreen topic of “to pay or not pay college athletes,” there is more to this bill than dollar signs. The bill covers a lot of ground but here are a few additional points it addresses.
Under this legislation, student-athletes would receive extended healthcare. A medical trust fund would be established to provide healthcare coverage for student-athletes up to five years following their eligibility. This bill would be a big win for athletes who encounter injuries during their athletic careers. Often players are injured and receive great medical attention while in school, but just because their eligibility runs out does not mean they are magically healed. This would help many of them bridge the financial and medical gap between college sports and life post athletics.
In addition to healthcare, it would give student-athletes more autonomy over their decisions to stay at a university, transfer, or go pro. For many sports, there are several restrictions and penalties that convolute the transferring process. This bill seeks to simplify that process by eliminating the restrictions related to transferring or breaking the national letter of intent. For those looking to go pro, they could declare for the draft and have the ability to return to college athletics within seven days of draft completion, as long as a professional team does not pay them.
Schools would also be required to provide their student-athletes scholarships for however long it takes them to complete their undergraduate degrees. This includes prohibiting coaches from influencing athletes on their choice of major and from retaliating if the athlete chooses a course of study they disapprove.
What does this mean for college sports
This means that as early as August 2021, college sports could look a whole lot different. Ultimately, this bill has great potential. Similar to the SB 206, dubbed the Fair Pay to Play Act signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in September of 2019, this bill is genuinely designed with the student-athlete in mind. While schools and the NCAA may lose part of their profit, this would be a big win for athletes, and could make their experience in college and after even better.
It seems as though 2021 will be a big year for college athletics at the legislative level. The power in the Senate switched to the Democratic Party on Jan. 5 after Georgians elected Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to represent them in Washington. This gave the Democrats the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote and with this bill originating from two Democratic senators, it seems like the odds are in its favor to pass. Congress is set to vote on another NIL bill this January, and though this College Athletics Bill of Rights was proposed, it has not been voted on.
Ultimately, it will be interesting to see how the chips fall in this ever-present debate of “should student-athletes get paid or not.” Given this bill and others working their way through Congress, it seems that we are inching towards “yes” each day.