Hopes Fade for Imminent Federal Deal on College Athletes, Pressuring N.C.A.A.
WASHINGTON – Congress is unlikely to act this month to overturn a crushing of state laws that, as of July 1, will challenge NCAA rules that have prevented college athletes from making money through to their fame.
The absence of an agreement, or even a clear timeline for one, by early July would be a blow to the NCAA and its most influential and wealthy conferences, which have spent many months and millions. dollars to ask for Washington’s intervention. While a deal may still emerge this year, prospects for federal action before state laws have faded to virtually non-existent.
“I know that date is approaching, so I think it’s probably safe to say that something will not pass in the halls of Congress on this date,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat from Washington and chair of the committee. Senate who was examining varsity sports issues, said after a hearing Thursday. “But I think the deadline continues to put pressure on us to produce what this deal might look like, and so I still have hope that before we adjourn for the July 4th vacation, we can say what the shape of that looks like.
Any base standard from coast to coast that might be in effect early next month, however, will almost certainly have to come from the NCAA itself. With other state laws coming into effect in the coming months, public officials and college athletic leaders believe changes or waivers to NCAA rules would be a stopgap.
On Thursday in Capitol Hill, when the Trade, Science and Transportation Committee met for the second time in eight days to hear testimony on college sports, the rift between congressional negotiators was clear by throwing a blow eye on the platform: Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the jury of the Republican ranking, was absent. On Wednesday, Wicker, who has particular influence because of the Senate’s 50-50 split, announced a survey of college athletes “to solicit their views on what they would like to see” in a federal measure. Responses are expected on June 25, around the time senators are expected to leave Washington for a recess that is expected to last until July 12.
When asked in an interview outside the Senate Chamber Thursday afternoon if he saw a path to a deal by the end of this month, Wicker replied: “It would be a surprise to me at this point. “
Even before word of Wicker’s inquiry this week, hopes for swift legislation were low because senators were divided over the scale of any bill. Democrats have called for sweeping legislation that would include, for example, better health care guarantees for athletes. Some have lobbied for schools to share the income with the players. Republicans balked at some ideas and also called for legal protections for the varsity sports industry.
“What we need to do is pass a targeted bill that addresses the current problem and leave the more complex issues of benefits and health care, extended scholarships for later,” said Wicker, who added. : “Once we agree on the scope, we can pretty much do it.
But it’s been clear for months that lawmakers, including some of Washington’s fiercest skeptics of the NCAA, were nowhere near as eager to act as college sports officials.
These leaders in athletics have operated for years on a fundamental principle – that athletes should play in return for no more than the cost of participation – under a growing siege. In 2019, a law allowing college athletes to hire agents, enter into sponsorship deals, and monetize their social media platforms cleared the California legislature and governor’s office with ease.
This measure is currently not slated to go into effect until 2023. California’s decision, however, has sparked a scramble in other state houses to similarly subvert NCAA rules. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas have laws that are expected to come into effect on July 1. Illinois could very well join them then, and other states have measures in place in the years to come. None of the proposals that have become law call on schools to pay athletes directly.
Pressed into state legislatures, college athletic officials looked to Washington for relief and argued that a national standard was vital. Despite sustained lobbying, no legislation has gone beyond a committee.
Without the federal law it’s dreamed of, the NCAA will only have a handful of options, none of which are particularly appealing to many executives. One possibility would be to approve a set of new rules, or perhaps a departure from existing policies, as early as next week to allow athletes to have more financial opportunities as state laws begin to come into play. force. This approach, however, could prove to be a fleeting balm: Some state laws that are expected to come into effect later are designed to give players more rights to benefit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses than the NCAA. did signal that she could tune on her own.
Another strategy would be litigation. Although the varsity sports industry prevailed in a case in the early 1990s after Nevada threatened NCAA proceedings, experts have warned that a legal fight this time could involve multiple fronts with, in turn, , scattered results. Even if the NCAA or its allies could win, many executives fear that legal battles over the precise nature and scope of extended player rights will harden public opinion against a juggernaut who has spent most of its recent history in fight for one reason or another.
One approach, of course, would be to do nothing at all. But that would expose the NCAA to the very danger it has long warned against: different rules for different states and schools, jeopardizing fair play and recruiting and sure to cause an uproar on campuses that could be left behind. . Commissioners predicted a sort of arms race to recruit, with states trying to align with each other with laws and perks that may prove more appealing to future college athletes.
The NCAA did not immediately comment on Thursday.
In written and oral testimony Thursday, senators heard arguments in support of sweeping changes to the rules that prevent athletes from making money through their fame.
“By freeing student-athletes from their fears and worries about additional benefits and rules like this, NIL legislation also has the potential to help student-athletes become entrepreneurs and create their own opportunities. in something they already know well: their sport, ”said Kaira Brown, sprinter at Vanderbilt. Each of the four witnesses, whose ranks included three current or former varsity athletes, expressed support for the federal legislation.
“What we want to avoid are restrictions so onerous that athletes cannot monetize their NIL the way they would like,” said Sari Cureton, who played basketball in Georgetown and noted, “It’s our bodies that have built this industry. “
But now the varsity sports industry is gearing up for an era it believes will be marked by chaos and uncertainty. Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal was skeptical. He was also unfriendly to executives who might scramble in the weeks to come.
“Their hopes are dashed, but their hopes have always been in vain with the state of mind they had,” he said in his office. “They didn’t see the broader interests of the athletes. They approached it from a very narrow perspective of what works for them and not for the athletes.
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