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Hopes Fade for Imminent Federal Deal on College Athletes, Pressuring N.C.A.A.

  • June 18, 2021

On Capitol Hill on Thursday, when the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation met for the second time in eight days to hear testimony about college sports, the divide between congressional negotiators was clear with a glance at the dais: Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the panel’s ranking Republican, was absent. On Wednesday, Wicker, who has particular influence because of the Senate’s 50-50 split, announced a survey of college athletes “to solicit their views on what they would like to see” in a federal measure. Responses are due on June 25, around the time senators are expected to leave Washington for a recess that is tentatively scheduled to last until July 12.

Asked in an interview outside the Senate chamber on Thursday afternoon whether he saw a path to a deal by the end of this month, Wicker replied, “It would be a surprise to me at this point.”

Even before word of Wicker’s survey this week, hopes for rapid legislation were dim because senators have been divided on the breadth of any bill. Democrats have been urging far-reaching legislation that would include, for example, greater health care guarantees for athletes. Some pressed for schools to share revenues with players. Republicans have balked at some of the ideas, and they have also sought legal protections for the college sports industry.

“What we need to do is pass a targeted bill that deals with the issue at hand and leave the more complex issues of benefits and health care, extended scholarships for later,” said Wicker, who added, “Once we agree on the scope, we can pretty much get it done.”

But it has been clear for months that lawmakers, including some of Washington’s fiercest skeptics of the N.C.A.A., were in nowhere near as much a rush for action as college sports officials.

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