An Air Force Academy football game in Colorado Springs. With the passage of Proposition DD, Coloradans would be able to bet on collegiate sports starting in May 2020. (Mark Byzewski, via Creative Commons)

By James Anderson, The Associated Press

Following California’s lead, Colorado lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday that would allow college student athletes to profit from their names and images — while giving the NCAA and Congress time to issue guidance beforehand.

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday unanimously passed the bipartisan bill, whose chief sponsors are Democratic Sens. Rhonda Fields and Jeff Bridges.

The bill would allow college athletes to be compensated without surrendering scholarships and to hire attorneys or others to negotiate with outside parties on their behalf.

Any commercial or endorsement contracts must not conflict with deals already reached by students’ university or college teams. The bill also reiterates that schools cannot pay any recruiting prospects.

If passed, Colorado’s act would become law in 2023. That presumably would allow an embattled NCAA and other collegiate sports groups to develop national standards on student athlete compensation.

In an era in which major college coaches, especially in football and basketball, earn multimillion-dollar salaries, and hundreds of millions more are generated by television rights, college sports already are professionalized, Bridges told the panel.

“It is a profession that many people are profiting from, except the people who are doing the work,” the Greenwood Village Democrat said of the student athletes.

Committee members approved an amendment changing the date from 2021 to 2023 to match California’s first-in-the nation law adopted in September. That law gives college athletes the right to profit from endorsements, business promotions or products on their social media accounts.

More than 20 states are considering new student athlete compensation rules.

California’s law prompted the NCAA Board of Governors to support athlete compensation “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” It set a January 2021 deadline for its three divisions to develop policy.

Patrick O’Rourke, general counsel and secretary to the University of Colorado’s board of regents, told the committee that the university is actively engaged in formulating those rules with the NCAA and with other schools in the Pac-12 Conference.

O’Rourke stressed the 2023 date would help avoid a patchwork of different rules for PAC-12 student athletes. He insisted that Colorado athletes, under the bill, would be required to report any contracts or endorsements they reach to their schools as a way to maintain transparency.

Last month, NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged the pressure the association is facing amid criticism that U.S. college sports, which generate billions of dollars a year, are unfair to athletes.

The NCAA and a working group led by Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut want to ensure student athletes in all states have the same opportunities.

Thursday’s 5-0 vote sends the legislation, which has ample support from lawmakers, to the full Senate before it goes to the House.

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