With the season underway for NCAA fall sports, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal made a push Friday for more rights, including protections for compensation for college student athletes.
At a press conference outside Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Blumenthal laid out the basic details of a “college athlete’s bill of rights” that he plans to submit sometime later this year.
“Athletics at UConn and in Connecticut generally is a big fan attraction,” Blumenthal said. “It’s also big business.”
Blumenthal said he’s working on a proposal to create uniform name, image and likeness, or NIL, rules, that allow athletes to accept endorsements and other forms of compensation and still retain their amateur status.
He also wants to offer more protections around access to education and healthcare, though.
“It is billions of dollars in business driven by the blood, sweat and tears of college athletes, literally,” Blumenthal said of college sports.
USA Today released a database of athletic department budgets in June showing 49 public universities spending at least $100 million on athletics last fiscal year. The University of Connecticut ranked 50th with just over $96.7 million.
That list also does not include powerhouse private schools like the University of Southern California, Notre Dame, Duke and Miami.
Blumenthal was joined by the leader’s of the University of Connecticut’s student-run Sports In Business Committee, who voiced support for the bill.
“All my friends on the team, they’re in full support of this idea, this draft and I think it’s going the right way,” Sloan Gubner, a committee co-chair, said.
Blumenthal said the bill would set national standards for NIL rules. Currently the NCAA has its own policies allowing student athletes to profit from their name, image or likeness, but several states also have their own laws.
The bill would create a college sports board or corporation, possibly 15-members large, to provide oversight and guidance. One-third of the committee would be college athletes.
Blumenthal said he also wants the bill to allow athletes to hire an agent or attorney to help in negotiations.
Some athletes have complained about not getting money promised to them, but face conflicting rules currently about whether they can hire an agent and still retain their amateur status.
Blumenthal also said the bill would create a medical trust fund to help athletes who get injured and require schools to honor scholarships given to athletes who can no longer compete due to injury.
Lastly, cosponsors are working on protections for student athletes against threats, abuse or harassment from coaches, staff or schools.
Blumenthal said he’s had “extraordinarily positive” talks so far with the NCAA, which regulates sports played by schools that are members.
“The NCAA is transforming how it serves student-athletes by mandating Division I schools offer enhanced health, wellness and academic protections and is moving ahead to support student-athletes as they monetize their NIL rights, but there are some challenges facing college sports that only Congress can address,” the NCAA said in a statement.
The NCAA can make many of the changes on its own, but member schools have to agree to them. Blumenthal also said federal legislation will help avoid the current confusion caused by states imposing their own rules.
“There is an advantage to having statutes and formal regulations that apply nationwide,” he said.
Blumenthal is working with U.S. Sens. Corey Booker, D-N.J., and Jerry Moran, R-Kans., on the legislation, but this is not the only effort to enact federal protections for college athletes.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., introduced legislation earlier this year focused on NIL rules.
That bill would require the NCAA to ensure athletes on mens and womens teams have the same opportunities to earn NIL compensation.
It would also seek to address restrictions that have kept some athletes with student visas, including UConn basketball star Adama Sanogo, from being able to collect money from NIL deals.
The NCAA didn’t endorse any specific bills, but said in its statement that it’s generally supportive of the proposed reforms.
Blumenthal said the current proposal doesn’t address all the issues college athletes face. For example, the bill does not currently raise the possibility of schools sharing revenue with athletes.
It also does not weigh in on whether athletes are considered employees, a move that would give them the power to collectively bargain.
A group of athletes from the University of Southern California have filed a complaint with the National Labor Review Board challenging a decision by the school and PAC-12 conference classifying them as “non-employee student athletes.”
Northwestern University’s football team tried to form a union but were told by the NLRB in 2015 that they could not do so.
Murphy cosponsored legislation in 2021 that would have allowed student athletes to bargain collectively.