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Proposed commission would study 'fair treatment' of Maryland college athletes, including unionizing, payment

Del. Brooke Lierman on Friday moved to amend her legislation that would have authorized Maryland college athletes to unionize in favor of creating a commission to study how best to ensure fair treatment of student athletes.

The Baltimore Democrat’s move to create the commission is an acknowledgment her legislation pushing unionization is unlikely to pass this year, while attempting to build momentum for future years.

“I recognize that going all the way to collective bargaining for our student athletes, even for just a limited number of subjects, might be a big leap,” Lierman told the House Appropriations committee Friday. “That's why I'm also offering an amendment to create a commission to focus on the fair treatment of student athletes. We want to make sure that how our students are treated while at our public institutions is not a peripheral issue but a central one.”

The proposed Commission on the Fair Treatment of Student Athletes would study myriad issues about the well-being of college athletes, including whether Maryland colleges and universities are providing enough academic support for athletes and if there are enough resources for those suffering from injuries. The commission would also study whether athletes should be permitted to unionize and enter into profit-sharing agreements with their schools.

In her testimony, Lierman made reference to several recent scandals in college athletics including the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair and a subsequent investigation detailing widespread dysfunction within the University of Maryland athletic department and allegations of player abuse.

Among the packet of materials Lierman distributed with her bill was a renowned 2011 article in The Atlantic called “The Shame of College Sports” in which historian Taylor Branch argued for paying university athletes.

“The NCAA scandals are growing and so is the symphony of voices demanding more rights for our college athletes,” Lierman said Friday. “The issues here in Maryland in the last year make clear that it is time for us to join the conversation. This bill is about trying to right the imbalance of power that exists between college student athletes and coaches and administrators.”

Lerman’s bill has 18 co-sponsors.

If approved, the commission would report back to the General Assembly on its findings by November of 2020.

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