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Student-athlete pay bill fails in NC General Assembly

The bill would have applied to athletes in revenue-generating sports — football and basketball. It would’ve been subject to a ruling in favor of student-athlete pay in the historic O’Bannon v. NCAA case.

A U.S. District Court ruled in favor of O’Bannon, but the case remains in court. In that particular case, the district court judges ruled that the NCAA’s limits on what major college football and men’s basketball players can receive for playing sports “unreasonably restrain(s) trade” in violation of antitrust laws.

The N.C. bill would have required Division I and FBS football schools — both public universities and private universities receiving public funds — to pay football and basketball student-athletes stipends and hold certain funds in trust for them until after graduation or after their university enrollments had expired.

“This is an important step in reforming the much troubled NCAA rules environment,” said Rep. Brian Brown, R-Pitt and one of the bill’s sponsors.

The stipends would have covered the full cost of tuition, room and board. The bill also would have allowed each student-athlete to receive in a trust fund a maximum of $5,000 per year in proceeds generated from the likeness of their name, appearance and licensing agreement used by the NCAA.

Brown said the bill was essentially challenging the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits student-athletes from engaging in their own corporate deals and licensing their name and likeness to companies like Nike.

The bill sparked lively debate. Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, asked why the bill was needed when it wouldn’t take effect until appeals in the O’Bannon case go through, which could take years.

But Brown said the decision on the first appeal could become law any day now, and the bill was needed to start the process of allowing the UNC-system Board of Governors and private universities to start the process of defining rules for payment.

Rep. Rayne Brown, R-Davidson, questioned why athletes in other sports, like swimming and golf, weren’t included.

Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, said student-athletes would likely choose some schools over others based on the stipend because only public universities and private schools receiving public funds would be required to pay their athletes.

But it’s likely that private universities would follow suit to remain competitive, Brown said.

The student-athlete pay debate has recently gained steam, with college athletics officials, university administrators, professors and others taking stands on the issue. President Barack Obama said at the end of March that he doesn’t support it, saying it could lead to “bidding wars” in an interview with the Huffington Post.

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