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Congress is jumping into the issue of paying NCAA athletes

What does this mean? Well it’s not good news for the NCAA

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional Practice Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve discussed the idea of paying college athletes before and the idea is now picking up some bigger proponents. On Thursday, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut (deep breath Syracuse Orange fans) released “Madness” the first in what he said will be a series of reports looking at the business of college sports.

Releasing this report as the NCAA Tournament reached the Sweet 16 was certainly smart in terms of publicity as the story quickly spread. Murphy added additional context to the document in a statement to NBC Sports saying

“Under the current system, students in big-time athletic programs are shortchanged on their education as the college sports machine demands more of their time and more pressure to win. Meanwhile, coaches, universities, broadcasters and even shoe companies are raking in the cash and sending a relatively small percentage of the money to students in the form of scholarships. The NCAA needs to come up with a way to compensate student-athletes, at least in the sports that demand the most time and make the most money. It’s an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of civil rights.”

This follows a bill introduced last month by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) called the “Student Athlete Equity Act” which would allow student-athletes to “allow college athletes to profit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses via commercial opportunities ranging from advertisements to video games.”

Walker explained his rationale behind the bill by saying that NCAA rules prevent athletes from enjoying the same economic opportunities as others.

“On campus, if you are on a music scholarship, you can pick up gigs and be paid. Only college athletes have to sign a document that says you can’t benefit from your name, image or likeness.”

Another bill was submitted by Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL) last year which looked at providing access to summer jobs, scholarships and health insurance coverage for athletes.

The recent college basketball scandals haven’t impacted ratings, so the NCAA’s favored argument about people not wanting to watch if athletes are compensated is losing a lot of steam. If these bills become law it obviously becomes a major step forward for student athletes and the fact that legislators from both sides are pushing bills is important to note.

The NCAA isn’t in a good position to battle the federal government which happens to hold a lot of leverage over the schools. It might be wise for the schools to get together and work to make sure the Walker and Richmond bill is the one which gets passed. Having endorsement money go directly to athletes would be a lot better for the schools than having to try and compete by paying salaries.