College Athletes' Image Rights Bill Introduced into US House of Representatives

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2020

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2020, file photo, NCAA President Mark Emmert testifies during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on intercollegiate athlete compensation on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Power Five conferences spent $350,000 on lobbying in the first three months of 2020, more than they had previously spent in any full year, as part of a coordinated effort to influence Congress on legislation affecting the ability of college athletes to earn endorsement money. At the hearing in February, NCAA President Mark Emmert said Congress needs to put “guardrails” on athletes' ability to earn money, in part to protect against potential recruiting abuses and endorsement money being used as a pay-for-play scheme. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Susan Walsh/Associated Press

A bipartisan bill that would give college athletes the right to make money off their name, image and likeness was introduced Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) co-sponsored the bill, which would write student-athletes' ability to seek representation and sign endorsement contracts into law. 

"There are things that everybody's going to see that they like and some things that they wish were different," Gonzalez told Steve Berkowitz of USA Today. "But I think that's the sign of a good bill. And, frankly, that's the hallmark of a bipartisan bill. It's never everything that any one individual, or one group, wants. It's always a collaboration."

The bill offers no restrictions to endorsements that can be obtained by student-athletes, though schools can bar players from endorsing products related tobacco, vaping, alcohol, marijuana, gambling or adult entertainment. It does not prohibit an athlete from endorsing a product that conflicts with existing agreements with the university. 

For instance, a school could be sponsored by Nike but its star player could be signed to Adidas. The school can prohibit the player from wearing apparel during games and for official university events, however.

"We greatly appreciate U.S. Reps. Gonzalez and Cleaver’s collaboration to sponsor bipartisan legislation to strengthen the college athlete experience," the NCAA said in a statement. "We look forward to working together with both representatives, their co-sponsors and other members of Congress to further establish a legal and legislative environment where our schools can continue to support student-athletes within the context of higher education."

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Universities will not be required to give student-athletes employee status, which is a cause for concern among player advocates. Being a student-athlete is essentially a full-time job without any benefit protections or stipends. 

Several states have already passed NIL legislation. Should it be passed by Congress and signed into law, the federal bill would supersede those state regulations.