Pay college athletes? Oregon's taking up the issue again
New legislation that landed in late March in the Oregon Senate could allow some college student-athletes to be paid.
Senate Bill 5, introduced March 24 by Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem and Sen. James Manning Jr., a Eugene Democrat whose district includes the University of Oregon, allows student-athletes to "earn compensation for use of their name, image or likeness." That includes royalty payments for college merchandise sold with the athlete's name or image.
The bill also allows Oregon student athletes to retain a professional sports agent while in college, but they wouldn't be able to sign contracts for their images or likenesses that conflict with school or team rules.
The Senate Committee on Rules plans an online public hearing on the legislation at 1 p.m. April 8. Watch the committee meeting's livestream at olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2021R1/Committees/SRULES/Overview.
Courtney said Oregon's bill mirrors legislation in about three dozen states, like California's 2019 Fair Pay to Play Act and New York's 2020 Collegiate Athletic Participation Compensation Act. Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.
"I've been happy to see similar bills pass in other states," Courtney said. "It's time for Oregon to do the same. We've worked with our student-athletes and universities on this issue. Senate Bill 5 makes sure our college athletes are treated with fairness. I hope to see it pass this session."
California's law put the NCAA in a bind, requiring a big change in national rules governing student-athletes. In October 2019, the NCAA Board of Governors unanimously supported changes to allow student-athletes to benefit from the use of their names and images. The board hoped to have new rules in place by early this year.
In a related legal fight, arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court are scheduled Wednesday, March 31, to decide whether NCAA rules against allowing student athletes to be compensated violated federal anti-trust laws. The case grew out of the 2015 ruling in a similar lawsuit brought by UCLA athlete Ed O'Bannon. In that case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed most of a lower court ruling that NCAA rules violated anti-trust laws.
A court ruling is expected later this year.
A 'patchwork' of rules
This isn't Courtney's first rodeo on the issue. SB 5 is nearly identical to Senate Bill 1501, which Courtney introduced in February 2020. SB 1501 rolled through the 2020 legislative session, passing the Senate 24 to 5 a couple weeks after it was introduced but stumbling near the end of the political race. The bill didn't get a final vote before the session adjourned in early March 2020.
During public hearings, Oregon university officials and athletes urged the House Committee on Rules to delay state action until NCAA regulations on the subject could be adopted.
Oregon State University gymnast Halli Briscoe, OSU's Student Athlete Advisory Committee president and chair of the PAC 12 Student-Athlete Leadership Team, told the committee action by states could lead to a "patchwork" of rules for athletes.
"I fear unintended consequences including a patchwork of inconsistent state laws, unfair recruiting and competitive advantages, difficulty monitoring compensation, inequitable treatment of female athletes and the exploitation of athletes by profession and commercial enterprises," Briscoe said during a February 2020 public hearing.
Courtney, who testified before the House committee, said SB 1501 was "long overdue."
"This bill is about fairness," Courtney said in late February 2020. "These student-athletes give everything to their school and their sport. They create revenue for their school through sold-out stadiums and increased enrollment. But these athletes don't get a dime of that money. They don't even get a percentage of the sales of jerseys with their own name on it. It's time that their contributions are recognized in a substantial way."
If it had been approved, Courtney's SB 1501 would have taken effect in 2023 to give the NCAA time to draft national rules. His SB 5, however, includes an emergency clause, meaning that if approved, it would go into effect the day it's signed.
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