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NIL Fallout: The NCAA’s horsetrading in Congress has begun

What do senators from New Jersey and Connecticut have to do with this? A lot.

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, US

Photo credit should read Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

That was fast.

Less than 100 hours after the NCAA announced its new NIL proposal, and begged lawmakers for help, Congress has already responded.

In our coverage earlier this week, we discussed how the entire unworkable morass was an intentional invitation to Congress to act in exchange for an antitrust exemption (and immunity from state lawsuits).

For their part, some in the US Senate are taking the NCAA at their word and are inclined to play ball — but not before wringing a lot of concessions out of the NCAA.

Sports Illustrated obtained a copy of the 600-word letter from Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), two central figures to the debate in Congress over NCAA reform. The letter describes the NCAA report as “a step forward and a step back.” While lawmakers are encouraged by the NCAA opening pathways for players to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL), they believe recommended guardrails in the report may be so restrictive that athletes “will have no meaningful ability to receive compensation for NIL rights.”

But at the core of the letter is a focus on athlete compensation beyond NIL. Murphy and Booker strongly urge the NCAA to go further with reform, suggesting a more broad plan that addresses athletes’ health and safety. Such a plan—one expansive in nature—is requisite, the letter implies, for Congress to grant the NCAA preemption from different NIL state laws and/or an antitrust exemption, both of which the NCAA requested in its report.

Honestly, if we’re going down this NIL path, most people should be on board with the Senators’ concerns here. If you recall when the group of Northwestern athletes were trying to start a players’ union, the majority of their demands did not center around compensation, rather they were focused on their health and education: post-career medical care, health care in school, not having schollies yanked for injury, improving graduation rates, and reducing injuries (particularly minimizing head trauma.

The TL; DR version is here.

Senators Murphy and Booker’s joint letter may as well be a more concise recitation of those core demands. And we’re going to see exactly how much flexibility the NCAA is willing to have in exchange for protecting its core business model. But, Booker and Murphy were pretty clear in their letter, especially in regard to player health, greater safety of college athletes is at the front and center of any horsetrading.

It came up earlier this week why precisely Senators from Connecticut and New Jersey were the main ones being early champions of this cause. (And I’m sure a few of you have the same question. There is a good reason, aside from partisan ones. (And, it turns out like much in our society, P4P and NIL rights, is deeply divisive and partisan, with views on the the issue largely driven by the generational affect of the differing voting demographics. At least among the Democratic party, it’s good politics.)

Cory Booker has a lot of skin in the game. He was a star football player in high school, being named to the 1986 Parade All-American team. That earned him a scholarship to Stanford, where he was the teams’ starting tight end. As a Senator he is on both the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (Commerce), and the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Judiciary). The former oversees all interstate commerce. and the two combined would be responsible for helping move forward legislation granting an anti-trust exemption and immunity from state law suits.

As for Chris Murphy, his interest is more by vocation than firsthand experience. Since 2008, in both the House and Senate, he has served on various health care committees. He is presently on the Health, Education, and Labor committee — all of which just happen to shoehorn into the students’ demands. He is also part of the Appropriations committee...and he who wields the check writes the rules. To get anything out of Committee, the NCAA is going to have to go through both of these men and their three committees: Commerce, Appropriations, and Judiciary.

The game is afoot, though perhaps quicker than anyone anticipated. Nevertheless the NCAA’s “antitrust cry for help” has already been heard. Now, the grim sausage-making business of grubby democratic compromise begins.