A bill to give college athletes a bigger financial stake in their name or likeness scored in its first committee hearing Thursday afternoon.
Senate Bill 123 would not require schools to pay athletes directly or allow amateur athletes to sign with agents to negotiate terms, the way a pro player does. That would mean only stars cash in on things like jersey sales and video games they're featured in.
"This is not about athletes at the college level turning into paid, compensated like you have at the level of, say, the NFL or the NBA," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He pointed out that coaches make millions and colleges made more than $800 million on TV rights alone in 2018.
"I think this bill recognizes the reality in certain collegiate-level sports: It's not amateur ... it is a profession that many people are profiting from, except the people who are actually doing the work," Bridges said.
He said the legislation is about "the Colorado value of fairness."
The bill passed unanimously from the committee to the Senate floor, with a recommendation it go on the "consent agenda," where it could pass without debate.
If it passes the Senate, it would bounce to the House, to start over.
Bridges considered a similar bill last year, but held off to work with the state's colleges and universities, none of which are formally opposing the legislation this year. He is sponsoring the bill this year with Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, after working with Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, a year ago.
The NCAA has announced it also is empowering athletes to protect their rights and profit from their athletic success.
Patrick O'Rourke, the head litigation attorney in the Office of University Counsel for the University of Colorado, said the bill doesn't interfere with contracts and the way schools finance athletics and other scholarships now.
"What the bill also does is recognize that those student-athletes who have achieved some ability to be able to monetize their name, image and likeness, because of their athletic success, have the ability to pursue those opportunities outside the field of competition itself," O'Rourke said.
Fields said it's about sports equity, including women, to retain the rights to their image, beyond their scholarships.
"This is the right thing to do, and, if we pass it, Colorado will be leading the way," Fields said, adding, "This is all about doing what's best for the students."
This story was updated to correct that Sen. Jeff Bridges is a sponsor of the bill.