A State Skirmish Over N.C.A.A. Amateurism Rules Has Quickly Become a National Battle

A State Skirmish Over N.C.A.A. Amateurism Rules Has Quickly Become a National Battle

The N.C.A.A., rather than fight these movements at the state level, has gone to Congress to seek federal legislation that would supersede state laws and provide antitrust protection to fend off lawsuits that have begun to chip away at the amateurism model that has prevented athletes from sharing in the profits that have made millionaires of top coaches and administrators.

Two Senate bills introduced this month will get greater attention in the next session, which begins in January. One, introduced by the Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, allows athletes to make money off their names, images and likenesses, but it comes with restrictions — including protecting colleges’ lucrative apparel deals — as well as the N.C.A.A.’s coveted antitrust exemption. The other, by the New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, reaches far beyond image rights, calling for profit-sharing with players in sports like football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball. Which bill gets greater attention will be determined by who controls the Senate after the two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

Booker said the state legislation had forced the N.C.A.A.’s hand, leaving it no choice but to come to Congress. He said lawmakers could correct a mistake made in the 1950s, when the N.C.A.A. coined the term “student-athlete” to convince Congress and subsequently the courts that players should not be considered employees and therefore could not pursue workers’ compensation claims if injured.

“We think that this is the right opportunity,” Booker said, “where we have a lot of leverage to get forward an athlete-centered proposal that can stop the exploitation, ensure their safety, expand their educational opportunities and frankly help them actually share in some of the revenue that’s being created by their work.”

Skinner also recently proposed new legislation that would bolster the Fair Pay to Play Act and push up its implementation date by as much as 17 months, to Aug. 1, so that it would go into effect on the same date as any N.C.A.A. rules that are adopted by the governing body next month. It would also go into effect a month after the Florida law.

“I want to make sure California student-athletes have the protections that we were intending for them,” Skinner said.

To that end, there have been several adjustments to the language of the Fair Pay to Play Act, which Skinner said would make explicit parts of the law that are now merely implied. For example, the N.C.A.A. proposal would allow a swimmer to give lessons, but only if the client or a family member paid for them. Skinner would assure that the athlete could be paid by, for example, a nonprofit group that helps low-income children receive swim lessons. She points out that such restrictions would not be placed on a music student who gave lessons, so there should not be any on a swimmer.

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