3 U.S. Senators release bipartisan draft of federal NIL legislation for college sports

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) look on during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) look on during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (Tom Williams via Getty Images)

Three U.S. Senators, a Republican and two Democrats, have released a bipartisan discussion draft of federal legislation that would standardize name, image and likeness nationally while providing college athletes medical protections.

A surprising trio of Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are partnering together to create The College Athletes Protection & Compensation Act. Booker and Blumenthal, left-leaning lawmakers from the Northeast and two of the loudest critics of NCAA leaders, are joining forces with a Kansas conservative.

It’s a somewhat stunning alliance that has been cloaked in secrecy over the past several months. Such a bipartisan partnership could signal positive movement in the NCAA’s pursuit of a federal bill to regulate name, image and likeness (NIL), a two-year-old concept in which schools are using differing state laws to compensate players, most of them through booster-led collective groups.

In a statement sent to Yahoo Sports, Blumenthal described the draft as a “milestone step forward” for college athletes. “They need a level playing field with guarantees of economic opportunities, educational outcomes, and essential health care,” he said.

In key wins for college leaders, the College Athletes Protection & Compensation Act sets a national NIL policy, preempts most if not all state NIL laws, creates an NIL database for transparency and even grants the NCAA authority to create rules to enforce provisions in the Act while affording the association a degree of legal protection.

Athletes, meanwhile, would follow fairly permissive NIL rules. They would receive lifetime scholarships and long-term medical coverage through both their schools as well as an established medical trust. The Act does not address athlete employment, a festering issue which college leaders and some athletes are fighting against, both in an ongoing court case in Pennsylvania as well as a potential ruling from the National Labor Relations Board.

The discussion draft of the Act is only a draft and has not yet been introduced in Congress. The timing of a final draft and bill is not clear, but the next few weeks are a critical time for the introduction of legislation before lawmakers leave for their annual summer break in August.

While the College Athletes Protection & Compensation Act draft is more moderate and balanced than others that have been introduced, the legislation has a steep hill to climb for passage, especially with the looming presidential election cycle — a time when Congress activity often slows to a crawl.

The Act is likely the first in what may be a flurry of bills or drafts emerging over the next several weeks as lawmakers, at the urging of college leaders, attempt to beat the clock. Sens. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) are collaborating on a bill. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have each shown an interest in the topic as well. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) is working to finalize a drafted NIL bill.

Since the NCAA and college leaders began urging Congress to pass federal legislation in 2020, more than a dozen bills have been proposed and eight Congressional hearings have unfolded. Not one piece of legislation has even advanced to the initial step in the process, which is a bill receiving debate among a full committee in either the Senate or House of Representatives.

The draft of the Act is a melding of two pieces of previously introduced legislation — a bill Moran introduced in 2021 and the College Athletes Bill of Rights, which Booker and Blumenthal partnered in.

“It is no secret that college athletics have grown into an increasingly profitable, billion-dollar industry,” Moran said. “However the rules surrounding athlete compensation have not been modernized.”

In a way to modernize them, the Act establishes the College Athletics Corporation to serve as an NIL clearinghouse in charge of administering the bill, creating specific policy and regulating and certifying NIL agents. The CAC will have a 15-member board of directors, one-third of which must be current athletes or those who played in the previous 10 years. The CAC will have subpoena power.

As for specific NIL policy, the Act …

- permits schools to restrict an athlete from entering a deal that is contrary to the school’s code of conduct for moral reasons.

- prohibits compensation to be used for inducements with recruits and retention of current players.

- prohibits schools from representing athletes in NIL ventures or influencing an athlete’s choice of a representative.

- allows schools to prohibit athletes from engaging in NIL ventures that are concurrent with college athletic events or competition.

Athletes must report their NIL contracts to school within seven days of entering them, and recruits must disclose all current and expired NIL contracts to schools before enrollment. NIL contracts will not be subject to open-records laws at the federal and state level, according to the Act. However, the legislation does require schools to submit an annual report of their NIL deals — average and total value of NIL contracts — that will be used for a national public database.

In a non-NIL provision, the Act permits underclassmen to enter a professional draft and then retain their eligibility if they (1) return to school within seven days of the draft ending and (2) don’t receive compensation from a sports league, team or agent.

As for medical care, the Act requires schools making $20 million in athletic revenue to cover athlete medical expenses for at least two years after their final competition. Schools making at least $50 million will have to cover expenses for a four-year period following play. A medical trust fund will cover long-term injuries not covered by schools. Schools making at least $50 million in revenue must contribute annually to the fund.

“Being a college athlete was one of the greatest gifts of my life — it opened doors of opportunity and offered lessons I carry with me to this day,” said Booker, a former tight end at Stanford. “But it also opened my eyes to some deep, systemic injustices in the system — a system that, to this day, continues to put profits over athletes. This bipartisan proposal represents a major step forward.”