The menu of options for how Congress may reshape college sports grew again Wednesday with the introduction of a new federal bill that creates new protections and opportunities for college athletes while clearly defining them as students rather than employees.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) introduced legislation Wednesday afternoon that would allow athletes to sign endorsement deals in the future with some restrictions on what types of deals they could enter. The bill, if passed, would also increase the medical coverage that many of the wealthiest athletic departments have to provide for their athletes and establish rules that would allow players to transfer to new schools and enter professional drafts without losing eligibility.
“It is vital to establish a consistent national standard for universities and student-athletes,” Moran told ESPN on Wednesday. “This bill strikes an appropriate balance as we work to empower amateur athletes while maintaining the integrity of college sports that we all know and love.”
Moran’s bill is one of a handful of Congressional proposals to emerge since NCAA president Mark Emmert and others asked Congress for help in creating a uniform, national rule to govern how athletes make money in the future. The NCAA was prompted to change its long-held stance on athletes making money from third-party endorsements after California passed a law in 2019 that will make the NCAA’s amateurism policies illegal in the future.
Five other states have since passed similar laws and more than two dozen others have considered legislation governing college athlete compensation at some point in the past two years. The first state laws are scheduled to go into effect as soon as July 1 this year. A spokesman from Moran’s office said the senator is hopeful that Congress can pass federal legislation before the state laws start to go into effect, which would avoid different states having a patchwork or different rules. Other senators who have taken an interest in creating a federal bill are less optimistic that Congress will have the time to address this issue before state laws start to go into effect this summer.
If Moran’s bill is passed, athletes would be able to hire representation and sign endorsement deals. The athletes would not be allowed to endorse products during or immediately before and after team events. Schools, conferences and associations such as the NCAA would also be allowed to prohibit athletes from signing endorsement deals that go against an organization’s student code of conduct. Athletes would be required to report all endorsement contracts to their school within a week of signing them, and recruits would need to provide their future school with copies of any endorsement deals that they signed before starting college.
The bill also would require athletic departments that make at least $20 million annually to cover out-of-pocket or deductible medical expenses for sports-related injuries up to two years after an athlete finishes his or her college career. Schools that make at least $50 million annually would have to cover those same costs for four years after an athlete’s career and pay for the cost of a second opinion if the athlete wants a non-team doctor to assess a sports-related injury.
Athletes would be allowed to transfer to a new school at least one time without penalty as long as they don’t transfer during their sport’s season or in the 60 days leading up to the start of the season. Athletes could also return to school after entering a professional draft as long as they don’t sign with a pro team. They would have one week to decide if they want to return to school after the draft.
The bill also calls for the creation of a government nonprofit corporation, the Amateur Intercollegiate Athletics Corporation (AIAC), that would help create and enforce rules and settle disputes. The AIAC would be granted power to subpoena witnesses. The organization would be run by a 15-person board of directors with at least five of those seats filled by current or former athletes. The AIAC, which would not receive federal taxpayer funding, would be able to create sanctions or fines for athletes who break rules. The Federal Trade Commission would also have the power to sanction rulebreakers.
NCAA leaders have told Congress that it is crucial for them to maintain a line between amateurism and pro sports. Moran’s bill explicitly states that athletes are to be considered students rather than employees and that schools are prohibited from being directly involved in helping their athletes sign endorsement deals. NCAA leaders have previously asked Congress for what they describe as a narrow antitrust exemption that would protect them from future lawsuits related to name, image and likeness rules. While Moran’s bill stops short of antitrust exemptions, it does say that the NCAA would not be liable to pay former athletes who did not have the same rules and protections that are provided by this bill.