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House Committee Advances Bill to Prevent College Athletes from Being Classified as Employees
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A significant legislative development has emerged in the realm of college sports. The House Education and the Workforce Committee recently passed the Protecting Student Athletes’ Economic Freedom Act (H.R. 8534), a bill designed to ensure that student-athletes are not considered employees due to their participation in collegiate athletics. This measure passed with a 23-16 vote along party lines.

Bill Overview

Introduced by Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Chair Bob Good (R-Va.) last month, the bill aims to establish that college athletes cannot be deemed employees of their institutions, conferences, or associations under any regulation or federal or state law. Good emphasized that this legislation seeks to maintain a balance between athletics and academics, ensuring that college sports remain viable, beneficial, and enjoyable for all student-athletes.

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Justification and Support

During the committee’s markup session, Good highlighted recent advancements for student-athletes, including the ability to profit from their name, image, and likeness, and the flexibility to transfer schools while retaining eligibility. Good expressed concern that employment status could lead to undesirable consequences such as union dues, employment contracts, strained relationships with coaches, and a departure from the student experience.

Opposition and Criticism

However, the bill has faced significant opposition from various unions and nonprofits, including the AFL-CIO, the National College Players Association, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In their opposition, SEIU described the bill as overly broad, poorly constructed, and neglectful of existing legal frameworks for determining employee status. They argued that rather than clarifying employment laws, the bill undermines the legal rights of student-athletes, leaving them unprotected.

Ongoing Legal Battles

The legislation is part of a broader context of ongoing legal and unionization efforts involving student-athletes. Notably, Dartmouth College basketball players recently voted to unionize, a move currently being challenged by the Ivy League institution. Additionally, a National Labor Relations Board judge is evaluating whether players at the University of Southern California are employees of the university, the Pac-12 Conference, and the NCAA.

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In another significant legal battle, a federal appeals court is set to decide whether student-athletes should be considered employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which would entitle them to minimum wage and overtime pay.



Financial Implications and Future Considerations

This House committee action follows a major agreement where the NCAA and Power Five conferences agreed to pay $2.75 billion in damages to college athletes to resolve three pending antitrust lawsuits. This agreement includes a revenue-sharing framework but stops short of classifying athletes as employees.

If college athletes were to gain employment status, numerous legal questions would arise, such as the taxability of tuition benefits, the possibility of athletes being “fired” from their institutions, and whether they would be covered by workplace safety and employment discrimination laws.

Political Stance

The issue of classifying college athletes as employees has generated considerable debate. Republicans have labeled it an “existential threat” to university athletics, while Democrats, despite their pro-union stance, are grappling with the potentially transformative impact on college sports if student-athletes were granted employment status.

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