Senators’ Bill Requires Colleges to Share Revenue with Athletes

Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut are proposing requiring colleges to share as much as half their sports revenue with athletes participating in money-making programs like basketball and football.

Their bill would require colleges to share 50% of revenues -- minus the cost of scholarships -- with athletes who participate in revenue-generating sports. It would also establish a medical trust fund to cover expenses from injuries incurred while playing college sports, allow athletes to transfer to new colleges without penalties and indefinitely expand the lifespan of scholarships so that players could complete their degrees.

Booker, who played football at Stanford, and Blumenthal originally proposed the legislation in August. Republicans currently control the Senate, and Democrats’ chances of taking back the majority next year depend on two Jan. 5 runoff races in Georgia.

The proposal comes as the Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to consider reinstating caps on National Collegiate Athletic Association scholarships. A federal judge in Oakland, California, said in 2019 that the NCAA’s rules regarding compensation violate federal antitrust law and athletes may be compensated for education-related expenses beyond current limits.

The justices said they’d review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in May upheld the ruling invalidating limitations on education-related compensation for college athletes while preserving the NCAA’s ban on outright pay.

Senators’ Bill Requires Colleges to Share Revenue with Athletes

The call for paying student athletes is, according to Blumenthal and Booker, part of the national reckoning on issues of racial inequality. Revenue-generating sports like football helped bring in $18.9 billion for athletic departments in 2019, but the players -- 60% of whom are men of color -- are unpaid.

College athletes have been barred from receiving direct compensation or from marketing their name or likeness, even as their performances help generate billions of dollars in revenue for hundreds of high-profile colleges and universities. The NCAA has come under growing pressure to ease restrictions, and in April it announced support for a rule allowing athletes to profit from their name and likeness as long as universities didn’t pay them directly.

“College sports have the unique ability to transcend partisan division and cultural differences to unite millions of Americans as fans,” the senators said in a summary of the bill. “Yet, college sports have also come to reflect many of the inequalities that permeate everyday life in America — where systems fail to protect those under their charge, where hard-working Americans are blocked from sharing in the profits they help create, and where systemic and structural racism disadvantage and exploit people of color.”

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