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New bill looks to shake up NCAA structure.

The topic of collegiate athletes being able to earn money has been a major point of contention within the sports world, dating back to the now notorious Fab Five of Michigan University in the early 1990s. Over the past two decades, many have become more vocal in the fight for the rights of student/athletes. This all came to a head last year when Shabazz Napier, formerly of UCONN and now a member of the NBA’s Miami Heat stated that he often went to bed hungry, even though he was arguably one of the biggest stars in NCAA sports at the time.

His comments sparked further debate as to whether there is some sort of reform needed in the collegiate ranks. As it currently stands, student/athletes who are on a full scholarship are barred from acquiring a part-time job, or accepting money and gifts from those not in their immediate family. Accepting gifts of any sort, both monetary and non, can have a player booted from his or her institution.

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Today, Connecticut state Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, has formally proposed a bill that would allow student/athletes to unionize. Citing Napier’s comments last year, he said “This is a really big industry. We’ve heard from students at UConn and around the country that they feel exploited. … So the question is, do we want to give those students the right to negotiate with the schools and the NCAA?”

Lesser has received mixed reactions on the bill from his colleagues, with those in agreement and others staunchly opposed. There are many parameters that still need to be set in order to ensure fairness to all parties. One of the key components of the bill cites that only major college programs which bring in significant revenue would have the ability to unionize. UCONN’s Men and Women’s basketball teams fall under that bracket, as does their football program, but not the other collegiate sports.

R.J. Evans, former athlete at UCONN said that the idea to unionize puts some power in the hands of the students, allowing them to bar their image and likeness to be used in video games and other memorabilia, but he does not feel athletes should be paid, feeling there would be less incentive to play as hard as possible.

“Even though we get treated very well, the school takes care of us [as athletes],” Evans said, “you kind of get the feeling that they are getting more out of the deal than we are. I feel like it would be less exciting”.

Clearly there are still differing opinions on the matter, but the fact that this conversation has been taken on by state legislators shows that there is a changing of the guard currently happening in the NCAA.

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