Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker plan to formally introduce legislation, the “College Athlete Pandemic Safety Act,” to eliminate the ability of colleges and universities to use liability waivers as a basis for student-athletes to return to campus and resume training activities.

Reacting to the growing number of schools, including Ohio State, SMU, Indiana, and Iowa, requiring student-athletes to sign liability waivers or “pledges,” the Senators have expressed concern that student-athletes are being asked to waive their legal rights in order to avoid being barred from practice and training facilities without the benefit of legal counsel. Senator Blumenthal summed up the proposed legislation, stating that

student-athlete’s health and safety is a “non-negotiable priority”

and that “forcing college athletes to sign away their rights … in the middle of a pandemic is just the latest in a litany of unacceptable actions schools have taken to exploit these young people.”

A proposed draft of the legislation includes the following stipulations:

  • A college or university cannot allow an individual to agree to a waiver of liability regarding COVID-19.
  • A college or university may not cancel a scholarship or financial aid for a student-athlete who refuses to participate because of concerns regarding COVID-19.
  • A college or university must inform all student-athletes at the school when an athlete or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. The person who tests positive will not be identified.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will  be asked to develop specific health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19 for student-athletes.
  • The college or university will make sure the athletic department adheres to all COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

Reaction and criticism of the NCAA regarding its lack of a uniform health and safety policy has been swift. Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen criticized the NCAA for publishing guidelines relating to the restarting of college sports but leaving “it up to individual schools to decide how to implement health and safety policies.” Senator Rosen also commented during Senate committee hearings that the lack of a uniformed NCAA response could result in 1,100 NCAA member schools reacting differently, which could result in wide-ranging and inconsistent protocols for testing, social distancing, and the quarantining of athletes.

NCAA Board of Governors Chairman Michael Drake responded to the criticism of the NCAA by asserting that he supports universal coronavirus guidelines and that “this is under discussion actively on a daily basis.”

Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group will continue to monitor the development and implementation of this proposed federal legislation and the student athlete waiver issue. Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group with questions.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.