Federal lawmakers are taking their first steps toward considering legislation for college sports since a new Congress was installed.
A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee told ESPN on Tuesday it plans to host a hearing to discuss the name, image and likeness (NIL) rights of college athletes on March 29.
The spokesman did not provide any information about who may be asked to testify at the hearing, but this will also be the first NCAA-related public meeting on Capitol Hill since NCAA president Charlie Baker began his tenure March 1. Baker, who took the job after completing his second term as the governor of Massachusetts, has been asked by NCAA member schools to lead their efforts to convince Congress to help them regain some control over how college athletes make money and help them fend off an onslaught of legal challenges to the current amateurism-based business model.
“I think the conversation with Congress will inform the conversation with membership about this stuff, and vice versa,” Baker told ESPN last month. “I understand and appreciate the difficulties of working something through a legislative process. It’s incredibly complicated.”
Committees from both the House and Senate held hearings in 2021 on the future of college sports, but neither produced any significant momentum toward a new federal law. More than a half-dozen different federal bills have been proposed by lawmakers in the past three years to reshape college sports in a variety of ways.
Bills proposed by Democrats have favored sweeping changes including education and health reforms as well as giving athletes the right to form unions and bargain collectively against the NCAA. Republican-backed bills have provided narrower proposals focused on creating a national standard for how athletes are allowed to profit from selling the rights to their NIL.
The hearing will be led by a pair of Republicans: committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington and Florida’s Gus Bilirakis, who chairs the subcommittee of Innovation, Data and Commerce. In a statement, Rodgers and Bilirakis said their group wants to “create a clear set of rules for male and female athletes of every sport to benefit from their name, image and likeness — at both large and small schools in every state — to preserve the future of college athletics.
“Given that March Madness is upon us,” they said in their joint statement, “we look forward to holding this timely hearing and reigniting discussions on how we can protect the rights of young athletes across the country.”
NCAA board chair Linda Livingstone told member schools earlier this year that they hoped to ask Congress for a new law that would make it clear that college athletes aren’t employees of their schools, create a national standard for NIL rules and protect the organization from retroactive lawsuits from athletes who were denied the ability to make money from NIL opportunities in the past.