Congressman to propose federal legislation for paying college athletes

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U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a former Ohio State football standout, is planning to propose a new national law to give college athletes the opportunity to make endorsement money.

Gonzalez, a Republican from Ohio, said he believes the federal government needs to act quickly to avoid potential problems.

California passed a state law Monday that prohibits colleges in that state from punishing college athletes if they accept money in exchange for the use of their name, image or likeness. The law, which will not go into effect until January 2023, does not require schools to pay their athletes directly.

Lawmakers from more than a dozen other states have expressed interest in proposing similar laws or have already submitted proposals in recent weeks. Some of those proposals include other stipulations such as schools paying athletes directly or setting up funds for them to pay for health care after their careers in college athletics are over.

The NCAA has said it recognizes the need to modify its current rules, which prohibit players from accepting any money from outside sources, but they strongly prefer one nationwide rule rather than each state coming up with slightly different variations.

Gonzalez believes a federal law is the correct way to move forward.

"I actually think that we need to do something quickly, within the next year," Gonzalez told ESPN. "I don't think you have three years to figure this out. I think decisions will start happening immediately."

He said he wants to create legislation that gives athletes the chance to make money while also setting up some way to protect athletes from what Gonzalez described as "bad actors."

"There are a lot of people who are trying to get a piece of the athlete who do not have their best interest in mind and are out for nefarious means," said Gonzalez, who was an All-Big Ten receiver at Ohio State before playing in the NFL for five years. "You can imagine a world where, if there were no guardrails in place, that it could get out of hand pretty quickly. That's the lane you're trying to carve. How do you do this to provide necessary and deserved benefits while not inviting a bigger problem alongside it?"

Gonzalez said he has had informal conversations on the subject with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, the co-leader of a working group assembled by the NCAA to evaluate ways in which the association could change its rules on name, image and likeness rights. Smith is expected to report the group's recommendations to the NCAA's board of governors at the end of October.

Gonzalez plans to wait to draft his legislation until after Smith makes his recommendation to the NCAA. Gonzalez said he has examined the issue with his staff in the past, but their conversation "kicked into gear" after California passed its new law Monday.

There is already one federal bill related to name, image and likeness rights working its way through the legislature in Washington. Rep. Mark Walker from North Carolina has proposed changing the tax code to force the NCAA to allow players to make money from endorsements or risk losing their nonprofit tax exemptions. That bill is currently in front of the House Ways and Means Committee in the early part of its path through the lawmaking process.

Gonzalez said he hasn't spoken with Walker directly, but said he has had conversations with various members of Congress. Walker's bill does not currently include the "guardrails" that Gonzalez thinks are necessary.

Gonzalez said he thinks he will be able to garner bipartisan support when he makes his proposal at some point in the next few months.

While he wants to take his time to make sure they draft a bill that properly addresses some of the consequences of allowing players to make more money, Gonzalez also feels a sense of urgency. California's law is three years away from going into effect, but juniors and seniors in high school who are currently making decisions on where they will play collegiate sports would be able to take advantage of the law by the time their collegiate careers are over.

California's law could give schools in that state a strong recruiting advantage, which would prompt other states to move quickly to catch up. Florida state Rep. Chip LaMarca, for example, said he hopes to get a law on the books in his state as early as 2020.

Gonzalez said a federal law would take precedent over state laws if one is passed, but he feels the need to move quickly to avoid confusion for young athletes who may take each state's new proposed approach into consideration when picking their schools.

He said he plans to move forward soon after Smith and the NCAA make their recommendations.

"My plan is to wait on that," Gonzalez said. "I trust Gene. I know he's thoughtful in this. ... I want to see that play out, and then he and I will have discussions on how we can solve the goals that we all have."