Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to a working lunch with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday federal legislation “probably is necessary” to protect college sports after a Supreme Court ruling that loosened the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s control and cleared the way for greater compensation for student athletes.

McConnell said there now are a variety of state laws regarding how student athletes can profit on their celebrity that risk creating confusion, and a concern that the existing NCAA model violates antitrust laws.

“They are coming to us for some kind of national standard,” McConnell said in his home state of Kentucky. “What we’re looking for from the NCAA is, give us a plan that we can enact on the federal level.”

An NCAA committee on Monday recommended giving some players rights to make money off of their name, image and likeness, but keeping in place wider bans on paying players beyond stipends and education expenses.

States including Alabama and California have enacted legislation that would permit student-athletes to benefit financially from their name and likeness. Last week, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order permitting such payments.

McConnell said he also didn’t want to see funding endangered for sports that don’t bring in revenue, noting that they are subsidized by the money generated by basketball and football at some large universities. He said he’s already spoken to university presidents and athletic directors about the issue.

“I don’t want to see us at the end of the day with fewer women able to participate in sports because universities have to drop teams, and fewer men who are in non-revenue sporting activities no longer have an opportunity for a scholarship and a chance to participate,” he said.

The Supreme Court in a limited ruling rejected the NCAA’s push for an antitrust exemption, though Justice Brett Kavanaugh in his own opinion indicated a willingness to go much further.

“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Kavanaugh wrote. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different.”

Some senators have already proposed legislation dealing with player compensation. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, last month proposed giving players collective bargaining rights so they could negotiate for pay and other benefits.

Murphy has also proposed another bill that would give players the ability to make money on their names, image and likeness.

“The NCAA collusion machine, designed to keep college athletes impoverished so the billions in profits can be kept for a small cabal of insiders, is finally starting to crumble to pieces,” Murphy tweeted after the court ruling last week.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a former coach at the top level of college football, said last week in an interview he is fine with allowing players to profit from their own name, image and likeness, but worries about schools bidding for recruits with financial offers and getting lawyers, accountants and agents involved.

The Alabama Republican also warned that looking to Washington for a solution could make the situation worse.

“You get people up here involved, now, you’re going to take away all your rights,” Tuberville said he’s told friends.

Tuberville said he doesn’t want to turn college sports into “minor leagues,” and, like McConnell, said he worries about less money being able to subsidize sports that don’t pay for themselves.

“You don’t want to bankrupt the system,” he said.

Story by Steven T. Dennis.