Legislative push in favor of college athletes will come to Maryland again

Lawmakers in California passed a new law last month that, when it takes effect in 2023, will give student-athletes at the state’s colleges and universities the right to profit off their image and likeness.

Since then, the law has led to strong debates about the future of college sports and has prompted lawmakers in several other states — including New York, Florida and South Carolina — to consider similar legislation.

Now the debate is coming to Maryland.

Earlier this year, Baltimore Del. Brooke Lierman, who represents the city’s 46th district, introduced a bill that would have allowed athletes enrolled in Maryland’s public colleges and universities to collectively bargain for certain rights. Lierman said she wants to “correct the imbalance of power that exists between our college student-athletes and our university systems.”

Despite a handful of co-sponsors, and a willingness to amend the bill that would instead allow her idea to simply be studied, the legislation was voted down in committee. But, with the legislative gains being made in other states, Lierman said she’ll try again in a couple of months when lawmakers return to Annapolis in January.

“I think that the California legislation has sort of broken the dam or released the water a little bit … This is an issue that has been pent up for several years now,” said Lierman.

She said she believes athletes, legislators and fans have become more frustrated at the imbalance of power between athletes, their coaches, the NCAA and their conferences.

She described it as “a clear injustice” at the amount of work an athlete might put in while being prohibited from sharing in any of the profits generated by it.

“When companies and conferences and the NCAA are literally profiting off somebody’s photo or their name and the athlete has no right to that — It’s pretty outrageous.”

The California law doesn’t require schools to begin paying athletes. Rather, it allows an athlete to make money off their image or likeness. It can mean as simple as being paid to endorse a local business or for hosting a youth clinic at their old high school.

Athletes would be allowed to make whatever money the market suggests they’re able to earn based on who they are, something current NCAA rules prohibit athletes from doing. Currently, an athlete in any sport who makes money from their athletic endeavors loses their collegiate eligibility.

Lierman hints that her next attempt at legislation will continue to be broader than what the new California law will allow.

“I think it’s past time for general assemblies around the country to step into the arena … and make sure that if the NCAA and the conferences are not looking out for the best interests of our student athletes, that we are,” she said. “These are public universities and they receive funding from the state of Maryland. We need to make sure that they are treating out student athletes right.”

Citing the heat stroke-related death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair last year, Lierman said protections focused on athletes’ health and well-being also need to be considered

” … There are issues that will affect and are affecting a broad number of players and participants in our college athletics, and we need to make sure that we are taking care of all of those student-athletes. Not just the top few, but all of them.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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