By Ken Reed

Six states have already passed legislation that will give college athletes the right to profit from use of their names, images and likenesses (NILs). In addition, 29 states now have active NIL legislation in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, the NCAA has said they are open to increasing athletes’ economic rights but continue to delay any action on the matter.

Members of Congress have introduced multiple federal bills with the primary objective of giving college athletes a slice of the $15 billion college sports industry. Earlier this month, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass) introduced a new bill called the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act, which would give athletes wide-ranging rights regarding earning NIL income. It would preempt any state legislation if it passes.

Murphy said in a statement:

“I love college sports, but it’s time to admit that something is very rotten when the industry makes $15 billion a year and many athletes can’t afford to put food on the table or pay for a plane ticket for their parents to see them perform.

“Big time college athletics look no different than professional leagues, and it’s time for us to stop denying the right of college athletes to make money off their talents. If predominantly white coaches and NCAA executives can have unfettered endorsement deals, why shouldn’t predominantly black athletes be afforded the same opportunity? … Giving students a right to make money off endorsements is just one part of a much broader package of reforms that need to be made to college athletics, but it’s a good start.”

The problem is, Congress never takes action on these bills. In previous sessions of Congress, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Reps. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) have introduced similar economic rights bills for college athletes. None seem to make it to the floor for a vote.

The states have seen this inaction on the part of the NCAA and Congress and are moving ahead on their own to provide college athletes with economic justice.

“Now that we’re seeing multiple states moving ahead, we want to make sure no Iowa athlete is left behind,” says Iowa state senator Nate Boulton (D).

Bravo to the states for taking the lead on this issue. However, ultimately, Congress is going to have to pass legislation in this area that overrides state legislation. Otherwise, the college sports scene will be a jumbled mess if 50 states have different laws regarding the economic rights of college athletes.

There is a positive on this public policy issue, and it’s that NIL legislation appears to have bipartisan backing.

It’s time to get something done.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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