A Republican congressman is pushing to pass a new bill that would allow student-athletes to make money off of their image and likeness. Introduced days before the start of March Madness and NCAA brackets-madness, the Student-Athlete Equity Act would amend the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) bylaws that prohibit students from receiving any form of outside payment for the use of their name, image, and likeness. Under current NCAA rules, student-athletes are not allowed to sign endorsement deals, accept gifts from fans, or even sell their autograph. Duke’s Zion Williamson, for example, can’t earn a dime despite the fact that his athletic prowess has high-profile celebrities and fans pouring into the stands to see him play.
“Signing an athletic scholarship with a school should not be a moratorium on your rights to your name, image, and self-worth,” reads a statement by the bill’s legislator, North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker. “It’s time to bring equity to student-athletes and fix the injustices that exist in the current NCAA model. After nearly two years of discussions with players and leaders, we are introducing legislation that won’t cost the NCAA or our schools a single dollar, while empowering college athletes with the same opportunities that every American should have in a free-market.”
Similar to how superstars like LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Serena Williams have made millions from lucrative endorsement deals, the Student-Athlete Equity Act would allow student-athletes to get paid when they appear in video games and other public media by amending the definition of “an amateur” in the NCAA tax code. The bill, however, does not advocate for students to receive direct payment from NCAA member schools.
The bill is the latest action in the ongoing “pay-to-play” debate. For years, critics have argued that players are being exploited by colleges, which rake in millions of dollars from fans who pay to watch them play. Colleges and universities are also allowed to profit off the student-athletes’ likeness by selling promotional items like jerseys. The NCAA, on the other hand, argues that athletes are rewarded with sports scholarships, free education, and other perks.
“To be able to profit off the backs of many of the students, some which come from underprivileged or impoverished areas, to me, that’s not fair,” Walker told WFMY News, “If everybody else has access to the free market, they should as well.”
Walker’s bill comes just days before the start of March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, on Tuesday. During the Division I tournament, CBS and Turner Sports, sponsors, NCAA, universities, and coaches, will earn a mint.
“We’re not asking the NCAA or the schools to spend a dime on these athletes,” Walker told ThinkProgress. “We’re asking for them to have the same rights to the free market that you and I have.”