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Senate bill would give NCAA players the ability to license their names for use in a college football video game

Nick Bromberg
·3-min read

A bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) would allow college football players to license their names for a college football video game.

Murphy’s bill was introduced as part of the ongoing efforts to reform the NCAA’s outdated rules governing players’ images and likenesses. As states across the country have moved to allow college athletes to make money off their own names and image rights, the NCAA has asked for federal help in creating nationwide rules that would allow college athletes the ability to get sponsorships and endorsements.

The new bill, however, has some significant differences from what the NCAA and its member schools have asked for in the new rules. And it comes two days after EA Sports announced that it had restarted development on a new college football game.

You can read the bill in full here. Murphy wrote a guest op-ed for Yahoo Sports regarding the big business of college sports on Jan. 27.

College football game back as early as 2022

EA Sports said Tuesday that it would be releasing a college football game no earlier than 2022. And while it didn’t offer many specifics about the release, executives for the company said they were moving forward with fake rosters for each team. In previous versions — the game was last produced in 2013 — players in the game were built to match their real-life counterparts even though their names weren’t included in the game.

Murphy’s bill would give EA Sports the opportunity to purchase a group license from the players to include their names in the game. That license would allow players to be compensated for appearing in the game. The lack of compensation in previous games due to the NCAA’s archaic rules was a central tenet of the O’Bannon lawsuit.

The game will also be called “EA Sports College Football” and won’t have the NCAA included in the title. The company said it has not obtained an NCAA license for the game.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the nomination Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be labor secretary on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has been a big athlete-rights proponent. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)

Other significant differences

Most importantly for college athletes, Murphy’s bill would bar conferences and the NCAA from restricting the amount of money that a player can make.

The bill is distinctly different than the one introduced in December by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). That bill — introduced when Republicans had a majority in the U.S. Senate — was friendlier to what schools wanted. Namely, the NCAA suggested in April that third parties paying players should be heavily regulated.

In a May letter to Congress, the commissioners of the Power Five conferences said that they wanted players to have to be in school for a semester to be eligible to make money off their name and image rights.

Murphy’s bill doesn’t give the NCAA any antitrust protection and would allow NIL rules to be challenged much easier. In January, the NCAA delayed a vote on NIL reform after it was warned by the Justice Department that it may be in danger of violating antitrust regulations.

While there could ultimately end up being a compromise solution between Murphy’s bill and Wicker’s bill, the Democrats currently have a slim 51-50 majority in the Senate. That majority may give Murphy’s bill an advantage.

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