Sen. Rubio to introduce bill allowing NCAA athletes to cash in on name, image, likeness

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he is planning to introduce a bill Thursday that would require the NCAA to make rule changes regarding college athletes’ ability to make money from their name, image and likeness and give the association protection from legal challenges to the new regulations.

The NCAA has said it plans to loosen its rules pertaining to athletes’ name, image and likeness, with the changes to be voted on at its annual convention in January 2021 and become effective at the start of the 2021-22 academic year.

According to a copy of the bill provided to USA TODAY Sports, Rubio’s measure would force the NCAA to establish a new setup no later than June 30, 2021.

The NCAA's top policy-making group on Tuesday voted "unanimously to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model."

“The only people on campus that are prohibited from benefiting from their name, their image and their likeness are student-athletes,” Rubio said. “And that’s just not a sustainable position … given the fact that many of these college athletic endeavors are now multi-billion-dollar industries that are generating a lot of revenue for corporate sponsors and for university programs.

“This is not an effort to harm college athletics. Frankly, it’s an effort to save it from what I think is going to become completely unmanageable if it’s not handled uniformly across the board.”

Under the bill, the NCAA would have the latitude to make rules “as are deemed necessary” to:

►“preserve the amateur status of student athletes.”

►“ensure appropriate recruitment of prospective student athletes”

►“prevent illegitimate activity with respect to any third party seeking to recruit or retain student athletes … including any third party” that has “a prior or existing association, either formally or informally” with a school or that has “a prior or existing financial involvement with respect to” college sports.

The latter provision, Rubio said, is intended to prevent “boosters from using this as a way to recruit or retain students.” It is not intended to prevent athletes from making deals with companies that have, or have had, contracts with schools, and Rubio is hoping NCAA will craft policies benefiting athletes.

To shield the NCAA and schools from lawsuits, the bill says “no cause of action shall lie or be maintained in any court” against them for adopting rules under the measure. Because the bill is directing the the NCAA and schools to make these changes, Rubio believes it makes sense to provide them with this legal safe harbor. The association has faced numerous antitrust suits, and a new one related to NIL was filed earlier this week.

The bill also expressly includes a provision aimed at preempting states from having laws permitting or prohibiting an athlete to receive compensation from a university or a third party “as a result of such athlete’s performance or participation in” college sports.   

Athletes would be able to have professional representation in making name, image and likeness deals and they would be required to report any such compensation to their school and the NCAA. The Federal Trade Commission would be responsible for enforcing the law, which would be named the Fairness in Collegiate Athletics Act.

Rubio’s introduction of the bill comes a week after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis put his state alongside California and Colorado in passing a law aimed at helping college athletes make money off their name, image and likeness. But Florida’s law is set to take effect July 1, 2021 – 18 months earlier than the effective dates of California’s and Colorado’s laws.

Rubio is part of a bipartisan Senate working group on the issue that was formed in December, and also involved Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Cory Booker, D-N.J., and David Perdue, R-Ga., but he said he is acting individually in introducing this bill.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a unanimity of thought on this right now,” Rubio said. “It’s not easy to come up with (a national standard on name, image and likeness), obviously. I think it’s going to continue to evolve. But we thought it’s important to have a starting point for it now before the Florida law went into effect.”

There is already a bill in Congress on this topic from Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., but it has stalled. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, said during a recent video meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics that he plans to introduce a bill by late June or early July that he says will be “bipartisan and bicameral.” Senate Commerce Committee chair Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also has publicly has taken interest in the issue.

“The bottom line is this,” Rubio said, “whether we agree with it or not, the states are already acting. So, really, the issue before us is no longer whether we want athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness or not … but whether they’re going to be all treated the same across the country, or whether we’re going to have 50 separate laws and, as a result, state legislative measures are going to become recruiting advantages for some schools over others.”

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