With Raphael Warnock projected to win one of the two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff leading in the other, among the myriad possible outcomes of a change in control of the Senate is how the NCAA will fare in its effort to get a Congressional solution to issues surrounding college athletes’ ability to make money from their names, images and likenesses.
Democrats will continue to have a majority in the House of Representatives. And a bill introduced in the last session of Congress by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut) would go far beyond bills driven by Republican senators and congressmen that were centered more narrowly around name, image and likeness (NIL).
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who has chaired the chamber’s Commerce Committee, introduced one NIL bill. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced another.
The Lapchick study gave FBS schools a failing grade. (Photo: Christian Petersen, Getty Images)
On the House side, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, offered one with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. In addition, Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced a companion bill to Blumenthal and Booker’s.
A spokesman for Gonzalez said he plans to reintroduce his bill in the new session, and a spokesman for Wicker said last week his plans were uncertain.
Blumenthal recently said his and Booker’s measure will be reintroduced in the new session. While changes could be made, the previous version had provisions that included athletes annually receiving money directly based on the revenue surpluses they help their teams generate. He and Booker also want athletes to have long-term health care and a set of educational protections.
As written for the last session, their bill would mandate not only individual NIL rights, but also athletes’ ability to market themselves as a group. That step, among other impacts, would begin to create a mechanism for athletes to be legally depicted in once-popular video games that were discontinued amid NIL litigation against the NCAA.
Federal legislators’ feelings about the NCAA and college sports do not always follow party or ideological lines. But Tom McMillen — a former Congressman who now serves as president and CEO of the LEAD1 Association, a group representing Football Bowl Subdivision athletics directors — predicted that control of the Senate would have a significant impact on the NIL debate’s direction.
Speaking during Tuesday’s election day in Georgia, McMillen said that if the Democrats gained control of the Senate, “you're going to have a much bigger push for a comprehensive bill, probably far beyond NIL.”
McMillen predicted that there will have to be some type of compromise between the Booker-Blumenthal plan and the versions advanced by Wicker and Gonzalez for a bill to get through Congress. But it’s worth remembering that, in August, when Blumenthal and Booker put out a blueprint for what became their bill, they were joined in that statement by a group of senators that included now-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
In addition, Democratic control of the Senate likely includes Democrats chairing committees instead of Republicans, although a 50-50 split may result in equal party representation in the membership of committees. This matters in the college-athlete context because Wicker has been leading the Commerce Committee, and his version of a bill was referred to that committee. The bill from Booker and Blumenthal was crafted in a fashion that resulted in it being referred to the Judiciary Committee, a panel on which both of them serve.
How quickly any action in Congress will occur remains to be seen.
“Congress is not getting to this any time soon,” McMillen said. “I mean, the ramp-up of COVID is just taking all the air out of the Congress. … I personally don't see it till later this year."
When the time comes, if the Democrats are in charge, McMillen said: “I think you're going to have to see more things done on medical and health care and so forth. I think those and the athletes will have these rights. The details between that and the rest of it are … going to depend. But some compromise will have to come out of here."
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