Members of Congress to host virtual summit in hopes of stoking momentum for NCAA reform

Members of Congress are planning to host a virtual summit with college athletes and advocates next week in hopes of stoking momentum for NCAA reform.

The summit, scheduled to take place Wednesday in the lead-up to this year’s Final Four weekend, will include a trio of panels moderated by Democratic senators and representatives with active NCAA-related legislation proposals. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) will lead a discussion on the importance of allowing college athletes to organize and collectively bargain. Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Massachusetts) will moderate a panel on gender equity and Title IX. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) will focus on the need to protect the safety and well-being of college athletes.

Current and former athletes scheduled to provide their perspective include former Washington State football player Kassidy Woods, Cornell volleyball player Sydney Moore and former UMass basketball player Luke Bonner.

This meeting comes on the heels of a period of landmark changes in college sports including the opportunity for athletes to make money from their name, image and likeness for the first time and a Supreme Court ruling that cast serious doubts about the NCAA’s amateur status. More than a half dozen members of Congress have introduced bills during the past two years designed to reshape the NCAA in a variety of ways, but so far none has made significant progress toward becoming law.

“I’m a huge college sports fan, but there’s something fundamentally wrong about an industry that generates billions of dollars for everyone except the college athletes doing the work,” Murphy said. “America is waking up to the injustices that are inherent in college sports, and we’ve seen an incredible amount of change over the last year alone. Now is the time to build on that momentum.”

Murphy first criticized the NCAA in a series of reports titled “Madness, Inc.” starting three years ago during March Madness. He has since pushed for legislative change that falls on the most aggressive end of the spectrum of proposed options Congress has debated for college sports. Last May, he co-authored a bill that would make college athletes employees of their schools in the eyes of the federal government and guarantee their rights to form unions and bargain collectively.

Trahan and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), who is also scheduled to speak at next week’s summit, introduced a companion bill in the House at the same time. Trahan, who played volleyball at Georgetown, has partnered with Murphy on multiple NCAA-related bills in the recent past.

Sens. Booker and Blumenthal proposed a “College Athletes Bill of Rights” in December 2020 that suggests an overhaul of how college sports are governed and would give players at major college programs a codified share of the revenue produced by their sports. Booker and Blumenthal argued that if Congress was going to get involved in regulating items like the name, image and likeness market for college sports, they also had a responsibility to force the NCAA to improve the healthcare and safety measures in place for athletes.

The rush of Congressional interest in NCAA reform came in the lead-up to last July’s introduction of new name, image and likeness rules. NCAA leaders asked Congress for help in creating nationwide regulations of the marketplace for college athletes. Progress toward legislation stalled after Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on the appropriate scope of reform. Proposals from Democrats largely pushed for widespread reform, while Republicans introduced bills that were tailored specifically to address name, image and likeness concerns.

Murphy and others said they would adopt a “wait-and-see” approach after name, image and likeness rules changed on July 1. While next week’s summit is not an official Congressional hearing, it is the most formal gathering of reform-minded politicians to discuss the NCAA since last summer.