Sens. Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal said Democrats’ control of Congress and impending control of the White House enhance the likelihood that college sports will see changes in benefits for athletes that go beyond them having an enhanced ability to make money from the use of their names, images and likenesses.
During separate interviews with USA TODAY Sports, Booker and Blumenthal sharply criticized NCAA governing groups’ decisions this week to delay votes on proposed rules changes regarding athletes’ ability to transfer and to make money from the use of their names, images and likenesses (NIL).
They said it further reinforced their belief that Congress needs to get involved – and in more than NIL.
“The first thing I see in their delay is a striking hypocrisy,” Booker said. “Their argument for some time has (been) 'Hey, Government, just give us the authority. We can police ourselves in these issues.' And they have failed to do it. … So, I am moving to do what I believe is in the best interest of college athletes. … And I believe that after failure after failure of the NCAA to address these issues, we have an opportunity to finally make them the law of the land.”
NCAA governing groups decided this week to delay votes on proposed rules changes regarding athletes’ ability to transfer and to make money from the use of their names, images and likenesses. (Photo: The Associated Press)
Said Blumenthal: “Frankly, the delay and dithering by the NCAA seems to reflect a lack of urgency and caring. Maybe that perception is overly harsh, but that’s the perception.”
Near the end of the recently concluded Congressional session, Booker and Blumenthal introduced a bill that would have been much more expansive on NIL than the NCAA’s current proposal would be. The Booker-Blumenthal bill also would have provided a far greater range of other benefits and protections for athletes than were in NIL bills offered last year by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and the team of Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, and Emanuel Cleaver, R-Mo.
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Blumenthal and Booker said they will reintroduce their legislation in what they believe is a political environment that leans toward broader assistance for athletes than the NCAA’s member schools have been willing to provide.
Booker called the July 1 effective date of Florida’s law that enhances NIL opportunities for athletes in that state “an external forcing mechanism” for Congressional action. Blumenthal said Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ previous public support for the concept behind his and Booker’s measure is an indicator of the incoming Biden administration’s likely stance.
Booker, who played football at Stanford from 1987 through 1990, said: “Having a 50-50 Senate controlled by Democrats and having an original bill with (other) senators who've signed on and legislation now that's being driven by Democrats and – frankly, sympathetic conversations I've had with a lot of Republicans – the chance is now for a lot of issues that have been festering since before I played college football to finally be addressed. So, I am very hopeful that we can find a just way to deal with everything from name, image and likeness all the way to protecting the health, education and safety of college athletes.”
Harris was among eight other senators who signed on this past August to an outline of what became the bill that Booker and Blumenthal introduced in December.
Asked whether he believes Harris’ involvement then holds some weight now as far as the Biden administration's view of this issue, Blumenthal said: “I do, because she not only believes in it, but she knows Cory Booker and me pretty well. … Kamala Harris is a super-smart, caring lawyer and soon-to-be former legislator who has cared about this issue and is a very strong advocate in our corner.”
The senators are scheduled to share their views with the NCAA’s membership Thursday during a session of the association’s virtual convention that also is set to include Gonzalez, NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy and Seth Waxman, who will be representing the association before the Supreme Court in its upcoming appeal of a case related to NCAA limits on benefits athletes can receive.
In its initial iteration, the Booker-Blumenthal bill called for athletes annually receive money directly based on the revenue surpluses they help their teams generate. It would have set up a long-term health-care fund for athletes. In addition, it had a mandate not only for individual NIL rights, but also for 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.
The measure backed those changes with a variety of enforcement provisions that would be directed by a commission whose governing board would be appointed by the President and have subpoena power. It also would provide athletes and state attorneys general the right to sue for enforcement.
Blumenthal and Booker said they had no patience for the notion that the NCAA Division I Council and Board of Directors backed off scheduled votes this week on transfer and NIL proposals, in part, because of concerns the Justice Department’s antitrust division leader Makan Delrahim raised in a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert last Friday. Blumenthal indicated that any antitrust flaws in the proposals should have been apparent to the association and the proposals should have been tailored accordingly.
“It's not like the antitrust laws were passed yesterday,” Blumenthal said. “They've been around for a while.”
Booker said he saw no reason why theJustice Department’s concerns with elements of the transfer process that weren’t being addressed by the proposed rules changes should have prevented the NCAA from making the change that the department actually lauded – addressing the five remaining Division I sports in which athletes generally are prohibited from playing for one year if they change schools.
“A good-faith measure for them would be to change their transfer rules,” so transferring athletes don’t have to sit out, Booker said. “I don't think that this is a reaction to the Justice Department. I think this is a false cry of impotency on their part to address the real fairness and justice issues of the athletes that they say they're organized to protect.”
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