College athletes would be able to unionize if a name, image and likeness bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is passed. It is the latest piece of federal legislation aiming to shape NIL debate. "The College Athlete Economic Freedom Act" would allow college athletes to "make money off their Name, Image and Likeness with the fewest restrictions possible."
The NCAA delayed passage of NIL legislation last month after the U.S. Department of Justice raised questions with the association about antitrust concerns.
NCAA legislation is expected to be in place by Aug. 1 with or without assistance from the federal government. Any NCAA version of NIL is expected to have caps on earning power even if player endorsement contracts have to go through a third-party clearinghouse overseen by the association.
Sen. Murphy's bill would take NIL a step further by making it "a federal right" that could not be limited by the NCAA. The bill includes language that would uncap those NIL rights for college recruits as well. It also includes language about a group license for players, something the NCAA does not favor.
Athletes would be able to organize through "collective representation." Taken as a whole, the bill would be antithetical to the current NCAA amateurism model. The NCAA does not allow athletes to be compensated beyond a scholarship, room, board, books and cost of attendance.
All that is supposed to change with the adoption of NIL rights as currently being crafted by the NCAA. Sen. Murphy's bill goes way beyond what the NCAA is expected to have in place.
"I love college sports," Murphy said in a statement. "But it's time to admit that something is very rotten when the industry makes $15 billion a year and many athletes can't afford to put food on the table or pay for a plane ticket for their parents to see them perform. Big time college athletics look no different than professional leagues, and it's time for us to stop denying the right of college athletes to make money off their talents."
Murphy has previously said that athletes need to be recognized "for who they really are: employees." The bill does not have specific language pertaining to an employee-employer relationship, but college athletics stakeholders were concerned about that relationship.
Murphy also advocated athletes getting a portion of athletic department revenues.
Some of that language is included in the "College Athletes Bill of Rights" filed in December by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Until Murphy's bill, Booker's was considered the most athlete-friendly in terms of NIL.
Sources told CBS Sports that the NCAA may consider Sen. Booker's bill "and work backwards" toward NIL legislation because it is so expansive. That was before Murphy's bill was filed.
Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) is a co-sponsor of "The College Athletic Economic Freedom Act."
With Congress and the White House controlled by Democrats, NIL rights granted to players are expected to be more expansive than previously thought. The NCAA is seeking an exemption from Congress on its ability to limit NIL compensation. That request could also include a pre-emption over state NIL bills being passed across the country. Most of those bills provide more NIL rights than the NCAA.
The first state NIL bill to come online is Florida on July 1.
Sen. Murphy's bill would also provide for "group licensing agreements" for players, a right the NCAA has left out of NIL legislation. As a group that controls a marketing license, college athletes could conceivably negotiate directly with the likes of EA Sports for their rights in the just-announced return of that company's college football video game. That would allow players' names, images and likenesses to be used in the game in return for EA Sports purchasing a group license.
Northwestern football players attempted to unionize in 2015. The National Labor Relations Board ultimately dismissed a petition by those players.
A group of coaches support unionization as a way to get through the NIL debate, according to Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. The AFCA the 130 FBS head coaches.
"If there is no cap, then how do you regulate this? Because the cap is the only you can regulate it," Berry told CBS Sports. "That's why a lot of our coaches are saying, 'Let's just let them unionize. Let's take the NFL model and apply it to college ball. That's the only way you're going to have some type of kind of guidelines and controls.'
"Many of our coaches are beginning to believe the only way to get through this. I don't see a way out. I've talked to a lot of lawyers and all that kind of stuff. I don't see a way out of this until you all the sudden they're employees and you start playing them and allow them to unionize."