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Regional Interests

Oregon Senate passes bill allowing college athletes to receive compensation

On a 23-6 vote, the Oregon Senate Thursday approved a bill that will allow college athletes to be paid. Senate Bill 5 — a long-time passion project of Sen. President Peter Courtney — gives student athletes the right to sign contracts providing compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness through endorsement deals and appearance fees.

It also allows them to hire sports agents to protect themselves during negotiations, as well as receive food, lodging, insurance and medical care from third parties as part of their compensation.

The bill is nearly identical to a law proposed by Sen. Courtney in the 2020 short session that never made it to a vote in the House due to the Republican walkout. It models itself after California’s 2019 bill doing the same. Seven other states including New Jersey, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, Michigan and Colorado have since passed similar legislation, making Oregon the ninth state to do so.

Sen. James Manning, Jr., D-Eugene, who co-sponsored the bill, said that he believes student athletes deserve a slice of the billion-dollar industry that college sports has become.

Both Manning and Courtney noted that the promise of a “free” education is anything but free.

“They pay for it by pouring their blood, sweat, and tears onto the field,” Manning said on the floor Tuesday. “It’s also an economic fairness issue. The NCAA and universities are profiting off our athletes, many of whom are Black and from low-income households, and preventing them from making any money for themselves. We have an opportunity to really make a difference in the lives of our college athletes.”

Courtney stood Thursday in support of the bill, explaining that he took this up with a student athlete in mind who just wanted to purchase a Christmas gift, a meal for their mother or even help their family with rent. He also explained to his Senate colleagues why the version of the bill before them wasn’t the same as what was initially introduced.

According to Courtney, the bill was changed after he received a call from NCAA President Mark Emmert threatening a lawsuit if the Oregon Legislature didn’t remove certain provisions that would have required universities and athletic organizations that receive royalties under a merchandising agreement to pay royalties to each member of the team covered by the agreement.

That facet of the bill would have taken the law a step further than any state has so far and spread the benefit of compensation beyond just superstar athletes. According to Courtney, Emmert told him that if they proceeded with that provision, Oregon’s college athletes would be considered employees and thus deemed ineligible to participate.

In his floor speech Thursday, Courtney inserted a bit of humor into his plea for “yes” votes by invoking Emmert’s affiliation with the University of Washington in an attempt to rile support from his Senate colleagues who are fans of the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.

“I’m being very careful with what I say here because I had the NCAA brought in on me at the last second to stop the bill as I had originally introduced with the idea that ‘If you pass that bill, we’re going to disqualify all the athletes in Oregon, blah, blah blah,’’' Courtney said. “The measure I took out of the bill will pass one day.”

Courtney also pointed out that this bill isn’t just about the Justin Herbert’s and Marcus Mariota’s, it’s also about extraordinary female athletes like Sabrina Ionescu, who Courtney said is “as sensational an athlete to ever come out of this state.”

“This bill is a remarkable first start. It goes even further than even the other states,” Courtney said. “Think of how many times you’ve seen a picture of one of these superstars. They don’t make a cent. Someone’s making millions off of them. You ought to live the life of one of them. They’re told what to do 24/7. They don’t get vacations. They practice them day and night. So I think it’s a good bill. Yes, I wish it was more, but this is the world I live in.”

SB 5 now heads to the House floor where it will receive a vote in the coming week.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting