Editorials, Opinion

Congress should pass the PASS Act

Sen. Joe Manchin recently introduced the Protecting Athletes, Schools, and Sports (PASS) Act of 2023 with the help of Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to standardize name, image and likeness (NIL) deals and establish certain protections for athletes.

For as much party-line grandstanding as there is in Congress, it seems the one thing politicians might be able to agree on is sports. And the bill Manchin and Tuberville have crafted is well-done. The vast majority is designed to watch out for the best interests of student-athletes, though it does include an adjustment to the transfer portal we suspect the schools will like better than the athletes.

To address NIL deals, the PASS Act requires the details of such deals be made public within 30 days of their signing. It also mandates that collectives offering deals be affiliated with universities and that agents who help broker deals be registered with a governing body to keep athletes from being scammed. There have apparently been several incidents of groups promising student athletes lucrative NIL deals, only for the athlete to transfer and find out the group couldn’t deliver, and the university couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make good on someone else’s promise.

Manchin and Tuberville’s proposed bill also protects an athlete’s scholarship. No institution of higher education can revoke a player’s grant-in-aid just because that player is benched; scholarships can only be taken away for misconduct or loss of academic eligibility. (If an athlete transfers to another school, the new university must honor the player’s scholarship.)  It’s not fair to a high schooler who makes an early commitment to have their financial aid rescinded because the coaches scouted someone else later in the year; nor is it fair to an athlete to lose his/her scholarship — and possibly the chance of finishing college — because of a coach’s decision to bench them for a season.

The PASS Act also requires health care coverage for student-athletes not only while they are students, but for several years afterward to treat any injuries or illnesses acquired while part of the team. Organizers of any tournament or playoff must contribute to a general trust fund, while individual schools have minimum medical coverage mandates they must meet based on the athletic department’s total annual revenue.

The finer details get a little confusing, and we imagine they’ll change once the rest of Congress gets its hands on the bill. However, we wholeheartedly support the idea that the college athletics ecosystem — from the NCAA, to conferences, to universities — has a responsibility to care for student athletes even after they’ve graduated. Too many athletes experience career-ending injuries during their college years and are left to fend for themselves; too many suffer injuries that plague them years after they’ve given up the sport; and too many don’t realize how badly their bodies have been damaged until years after they’ve stopped playing.

When the NCAA allowed athletes a one-time, penalty-free transfer, it turned collegiate sports upside down. The PASS Act puts a new stipulation on that one-time transfer: Student-athletes must complete three years of academic eligibility before they can get their penalty-free transfer. This will hopefully calm some of the chaos we’ve seen the last couple years.

We doubt that the PASS Act will make it through Congress unscathed — politicians of both stripes will find parts with which they disagree, or lawyers will start poking holes in the provisions — but we hope members of both parties can come together to preserve the essence of the legislation: protecting student-athletes’ health, their financial and academic opportunities and their futures.