“I think state legislatures are tired of waiting around for the NCAA to do what’s right,” Lierman said.
Ramogi Huma, the executive director of the National College Players Association, estimates that 25 states have legislation in the works that address name, image and likeness issues, which would allow athletes to earn money for public appearances, endorsement deals or autograph signings. His organization is working with 13 of those states on the precise language of their bills.
The California law, which is scheduled to go into effect in 2023, caught the interest of federal lawmakers, sparking concern among many college athletics stakeholders and making the matter urgent for other states to consider.
“Sometimes imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said Virginia Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax), who introduced his bill Wednesday. “We saw what was going on in California. They’re onto something here, right? There’s some momentum building.”
That has created a deadline of sorts for the NCAA, or the federal government, to act. NCAA President Mark Emmert said his organization is weary of states passing different versions of the California bill, creating a patchwork of regulations that vary from state to state.
“Having, in the end, 50 different state laws is a challenge to anything that’s trying to be operated at a national level around the country,” Emmert told reporters in Washington last month.
Emmert has begun discussions with congressional leaders, some of whom are considering federal legislation that addresses name, image and likeness issues. There’s already a House bill that would open the door for athletes to receive compensation, and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have discussed introducing a similar bill in the Senate.
For many, the issue is bipartisan. The bills introduced in the Virginia legislature were sponsored by lawmakers from both parties, Simon and Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach). The Maryland measure will be co-sponsored by Lierman and Sen. Justin D. Ready (R-Carroll County).
“Democrats and Republicans both love college athletics,” Ready said. “That’s a bipartisan enjoyment that we can come together on. … There’s just millions and millions of dollars being made, and I’m okay with that. I know a scholarship is extremely valuable, but it doesn’t pass the smell test that a school can sell a kid’s jersey but the kid can’t get an endorsement deal.”
While many of the states’ legislative proposals are limited to addressing name, image and likeness and matching the California measure, Maryland’s bill is also focused on health and safety issues.
Lierman proposed a broader bill in February that would have given athletes the right to unionize and collectively bargain over matters related to health, safety and compensation. This session’s refined measure calls for the establishment of a “Commission on the Fair Treatment of Student Athletes” that would deal with a range of issues: reviewing policies, suggesting changes and investigating problems and complaints.
Her bill is called “The Jordan McNair Act,” named in honor of the Maryland football player who died in June 2018, two weeks after suffering heatstroke during a team workout. The measure has the backing of McNair’s father, Marty.
“As parents, we felt we should have prepared Jordan for all events seen and unseen regarding his safety and well-being on and off the football field. This commission will give all student athletes a realistic opportunity to bring awareness and safety to all aspects of their student athlete experience,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post.
The Maryland bill, if passed and signed into law, calls for an immediate formation of the commission, with the compensation component going into effect in 2022, according to a draft of the bill shared with The Post. The Virginia bill would have an effective date of July 2024.
“I think there has been a sea change,” Lierman said. “I think we’ve reached a tipping point in how people are viewing and their level of concern about the treatment of college student-athletes."