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Lawmakers take up NIL deals amid college sports ‘wild west’

A House subcommittee hearing Thursday dived into how to approach the growing issue of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals for college athletes amid an uncertain future for the players.

“I wanted to be clear today: NIL was great for players, and the change was long overdue. At the same time, the sudden transition to NIL has enabled a wild west environment where pay-for-play is rampant,” said House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce Chair Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.).

“We must promote safe guardrails and a level playing field,” Bilirakis added.

NCAA President Charlie Baker, a witness at the hearing, has been advocating for Congress to ensure college students won’t be labeled as employees — currently the subject of multiple court cases — and to give his organization some antitrust protection.

Lawmakers on Thursday raised concerns about how NIL deals were conducted as some student-athletes have dropped their scholarships and tried to transfer schools due to NIL potential, only to be left without a contract.

“I believe in this conversation that we have to make the rights and privileges of and protection of student athletes to be No 1. And today, right now, the only way that college athletes can make any resources based on name, image and likeness is from third-party players,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

And not all the lawmakers are on board with the draft legislation on the issue currently under consideration.

“The Fair College Sports Act would create a new governing body completely controlled by political appointees, none of whom are required to be current athletes,” said Lori Trahan (D-Mass.).

“I’m also concerned with provisions in the bill that would allow schools to regulate and potentially bar athletes from engaging in activities on campus,” she added.

The committee had three students testify about the state of college sports and NIL deals, with the bill getting mixed reviews from the trio.

“The Fair College Sports Act creates regulatory obstacles for college athletics. This bill has over 200 negative references to NIL with words like regulate, prohibit, sanction, restrict and inducement, but it never mentions freedom, growth, innovation,” said Chase Griffin, a football player at UCLA.

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