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Marco Rubio leads Senate effort to compensate college athletes

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in an interview this week that he supports college athletes getting paid, the latest high-profile lawmaker to break from the NCAA.

Florida’s football-crazed U.S. senator is drawing up plans to create a national standard for compensating college athletes for their names, images and likenesses weeks after California passed legislation and a similar bill in the Florida Legislature received the backing of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in an interview this week that he supports college athletes getting paid, the latest high-profile lawmaker to advocate for an overhaul of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a governing body for college sports that has long prevented athletes from making money from their athletic achievements.

Rubio said he met with Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy to discuss the issue this week, after multiple states, including Florida, have proposed fixes of their own. Murphy and Romney have been outspoken against the NCAA with Murphy producing a series of reports regarding athlete compensation and Romney last month warning the NCAA that Congress is prepared to act if it doesn’t make changes on its own.

“From my perspective, it’s just having a standard across the country. And 50 individual state laws would make it a chaotic mess and endanger college athletics,” Rubio said. “I think college athletes, particularly in the sports that are generating a lot of revenue, should have the ability to do what any American can do and that is profit off of their work, their image, their likeness and so forth. How we do that in a way that doesn’t destroy college athletics is something that we have to figure out, what the federal role is.”

Rubio doesn’t know what a potential bill would look like since discussions are just beginning.

“We’re starting the work,” Rubio said. “We don’t have easy answers. It’s a complicated issue.“

Rubio is one of three U.S. senators who played college football on scholarship. He played a year at now-defunct Tarkio College — a Missouri college that was affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics instead of the NCAA — before transferring to the University of Florida.

Rubio’s office said Ohio Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who played college football at Division I Ohio State University before embarking on an NFL career, is leading efforts on the issue in the House of Representatives.

An NCAA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Rubio’s efforts.

Florida state Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, who authored a bill in the Florida Legislature to allow college athletes to make money from their names, images and likenesses, said he welcomes interest from Washington.

“The fact that Republicans and Democrats are coming together to say something’s wrong says a lot,” McGhee said. “One of the ideas that is really true at this moment is a college student who is there on an arts scholarship can sell his or her painting and reap those benefits without risking a scholarship. But a student athlete who wants to monetize their YouTube page risks being removed from the scholarship program because they want to participate in the free market.”

McGhee said he doesn’t think individual states that are considering bills to allow college athletes to profit are considering bills that are substantially different from one another. He said the California law that passed in September is essentially the same as the bill in Florida that recently won the endorsement of DeSantis, a former college baseball player at Yale University.

But state-level laws that are implemented at different times could cause confusion for athletes and their families, and Rubio called the idea of 50 different state laws “chaos” in a tweet last week.

“NCAA is an unaccountable multi-billion dollar monopoly,” Rubio tweeted. “50 different state laws on compensation for athletes would be chaos. Working on a bi-partisan proposal with Chris Murphy and Anthony Gonzalez that’s fair to athletes and won’t kill college sports.”

NCAA leaders last week voted unanimously to start the process of modifying that organization’s rule to allow college athletes to profit “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” But their plan, which isn’t finalized, would not follow the proposals in Florida or California. Instead, the NCAA would regulate ways athletes can make money like endorsement deals, as opposed to a free market.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., introduced a bill earlier this year that would amend the definition of a qualified amateur sports organization in the tax code to remove the restriction on student-athletes being compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses.

“Signing on with a university, if you’re a student-athlete, should not be [a] moratorium on your rights as an individual,” Walker, a former college athlete, said in a statement. “This is the time and the moment to be able to push back and defend the rights of these young adults.”

Walker is hoping for a vote on his bill early next year.