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“The time has come for change,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said. “We have an opportunity to do now what should have been done decades ago — to step in and provide true justice and opportunity for college athletes across the country.”

It’s not yet a formal bill, but Democrats’ demands draw a bright battle line between player pay legislation floated by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and backed by the NCAA, major conferences and Florida schools. Rubio’s bill would allow athletes some leeway to monetize their social media followers or sign endorsement deals, under the NCAA’s watch. Democrats are suggesting a much broader approach.

The future of college sports is not only drawing more attention from Congress, it’s escalated into a full-blown national political debate. All it took was a global pandemic to tip the scales.

The dueling proposals and feuds over fall football are part of a transformative moment for a players’ rights movement that’s already winning battles in courts and state legislatures. For college sports’ reformers, the crisis offers a fresh opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure of a booming business that relies on unpaid labor, largely white decision-makers and an outsize share of Black athletes.

Nearly half of all Division I football players are Black, according to the NCAA’s demographics database. But 79 percent of university athletics directors, 82 percent of Division I head football coaches, 80 percent of the sport’s offensive coordinators, 72 percent of defensive coordinators and even 53 percent of all other assistants at Division I schools are white.

“We can’t return to business as usual — where a multibillion dollar industry lines the pockets of predominantly white executives all while majority-Black athletes can’t profit from their labor,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said.

The virus’ continued spread, plus new and evolving information about Covid-19 and its “potential serious cardiac side effects” on elite athletes prompted calls from Pac-12 medical advisers to cut off competitions. So did concerns about traveling on commercial aircraft and the nation’s still-limited capacity for frequent, rapid-turnaround testing.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, on the other hand, said “opinions vary regarding the best path forward” and that the conference is comfortable with its schools’ ability to provide structured training, rigorous testing and hospital-quality sanitation.

“All of this has rolled into a moment for collegiate athletics that looks like we do not have our house in order,” said Nancy Zimpher, chancellor emeritus of the State University of New York and a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “It has exposed our vulnerabilities, and the shift from what I think is really considered to be a public good into something that looks like a private, for-profit enterprise.”

Years of rainmaking revenue for big-time sports programs prompted a parallel rush of overspending on coaching salaries and flashy sports facilities, Zimpher said. Fragmented leadership and a complicated governance structure have also been problems.

“I think in some respects our worst dreams have come true. How could we possibly pit the financial losses of not playing football this fall against the health and safety and general welfare of our student athletes? That appears to be what it’s coming down to.”

Players are flexing their muscle, taking to social media to announce they’ve opted out of competing this fall, or begging to play while calling on schools to offer universal safety and health protocols. They’re even reviving the idea of establishing college athlete labor unions.

Democrats, in addition to their sweeping proposal to share college sports revenue with athletes, are also pitching a less-restrictive take on players’ use of their names and images than the one Rubio introduced in June. The NCAA wants federal protection from antitrust laws to set the terms of how athletes can market themselves while overriding competing state laws. Rubio’s bill, dubbed the Fairness in Collegiate Athletics Act, does just that and would require the NCAA to set rules for student-athletes by June 30, 2021, while authorizing the Federal Trade Commission to enforce them.

Democrats say formal legislation reflecting their demands will be introduced in the Senate in the coming months. Booker, Harris and Murphy are backing the framework alongside Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

The proposal is likely to face skepticism from conservative lawmakers and could carry immense costs for colleges and universities whose athletic departments already face billions in potential losses because of the pandemic.

Public school sports programs in the NCAA’s highest-profile Football Bowl Subdivision generated roughly $8.8 billion in revenue in 2018, according to the most recent data available.

According to aggregate data maintained by the Knight Commission, those same programs spent $5 billion — nearly 60 percent of their total expenses in 2018 — on salaries and benefits for coaches and staff, in addition to overhead costs such as debt service on athletics facilities projects and equipment.

What’s resulted, Zimpher said, is “unfathomable debt.”

“This is economics at a level where you are a renter and you’ve lost your job and you can’t pay your lease,” Zimpher said. “We’ve just gotten ourselves into a really big pickle and now it’s exposed, and it’s the pressure that’s really forcing people to say ‘We can’t afford not to play.’”

Now, many schools that have punted on a fall season are exploring whether they can play football next spring.

Infections must first be brought under control for sports to restart safely, said Tara Kirk Sell, an Olympic medalist and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. That’s particularly important in areas recording high numbers of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents, as well as high rates of positive tests for the virus.

“College sports, if they’re going to go forward, need to have a clear-eyed approach rather than hoping that everything will be fine,” Sell said. “Especially when it comes to contact sports like football, where I think people are realizing this is going to be really hard.”

“The more cases that you have in the community — especially in many of these states that aren’t doing contact tracing, and the tests are coming back slowly — you’re just going to have way more opportunities for those cases to end up on a team,” she said.

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Trump’s ex-Russia adviser Fiona Hill: US increasingly seen as ‘object of pity’

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“We are increasingly seen as an object of pity, including by our allies, because they are so shocked by what’s happening internally, how we’re eating ourselves alive with our divisions,” Fiona Hill, who was a witness in the Trump impeachment hearings, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Tuesday during the Citizen by CNN 2020 conference. “We’re the ones who are creating all this. It’s not the Russians or the Chinese or anyone else. We are doing this to ourselves.”

Asked whether the US is still seen as a model, Hill replied, “Unless we get our domestic act together, no.”

Her comments come on the heels of a recent Pew Research Center survey among 13 nations that found America’s reputation has declined further over the past year among its key allies, with part of the decline linked to the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What is really eroding our standing is what people are seeing happening here in the United States,” Hill, who was a national security adviser until she left the administration last summer, told CNN on Tuesday.

She said it’s the “bungled handling of Covid, on top of race relations, on top of our political polarization and the spectacles that we’re presenting to the outside world is what’s really pushing all of this.”

Hill said it would be “difficult” for NATO to survive under a second term of President Donald Trump, adding that the US needs to “revitalize our commitment to NATO.”

“Right now, most of our closest allies, not just partners and other major players, do not see the United States as leading. They see us as quite the contrary, as being so consumed with domestic problems that we really can’t do anything very much at all,” she said.

During congressional hearings in the 2019 impeachment inquiry, Hill warned that the Republican defense of the President — by peddling Ukraine conspiracy theories — was in danger of extending Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

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House hits pause on spending vote as Hill leaders resume talks

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Both Democrats and Republicans are eager to reach a deal to avert last-minute drama, though the two parties have squabbled for weeks over various funding and policy provisions in the continuing resolution, which would buy more time for negotiations on a broader spending deal.

“The talks continue, and hopefully we’ll reach an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, though he did not comment when asked if he’d spoken with Pelosi.

Without a spending agreement, top Democrats and Republicans would find themselves exactly where they don’t want to be just weeks before the election — perilously close to the Sept. 30 deadline with no agreement to keep the government open.

A deal had appeared to be coming together on Friday, including tens of billions of dollars in farmer payments that Republicans sought in exchange for $2 billion in pandemic-related nutritional assistance that Democrats wanted.

But last-minute objections to the trade relief — including Democratic concerns that the president is leveraging the money to boost his reelection chances — tanked the talks. House Democrats ultimately released stopgap legislation on Monday that lacked both provisions, drawing the ire of McConnell, who tweeted that it “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.”

Both Pelosi and McConnell have been adamant about avoiding yet another government shutdown under President Donald Trump, and have supported a bill to extend funding through mid-December.

Senate Republicans on Monday said a lack of relief for farmers in the stopgap spending bill is problematic. But most stressed that it’s not worth shutting down the government in protest and said their side of the Capitol could still attempt to amend the bill.

“We could offer an amendment to try to put it back,” Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said of the trade aid on Monday. “Or we could vote against the CR. But I’m for running the government. I’d prefer to keep the government running.”

Asked if Republicans would be willing to spend more on food-related assistance in exchange for the farm aid, Shelby said Tuesday: “I’d listen to reason on that.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, slammed the lack of assistance for farmers. But when asked if Republicans would shut down the government without it, he replied, “No.”

As of Friday, Democrats had dropped a request that would extend the Census Bureau’s Dec. 31 deadline to turn over apportionment data used to divvy up House seats to the president — potentially punting the final handling of census data to Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected this November. Democrats had also failed to secure $3.6 billion in election security grants.

The GOP demands for farm aid, however, have emerged as a sticking point for many rank-and-file Democrats, who have been increasingly irate about Trump’s blatant use of farm aid for political purposes. That includes a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wis., last week, where Trump touted the taxpayer money as if it were a gift from him.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the No. 4 Senate Democrat and ranking member of the agriculture committee, this week criticized Trump’s use of the program as a “slush fund” and argued Republicans have been unwilling to agree to stricter guardrails around how the aid can be spent.

“This is not just a political fund for the election,” she said.

Helena Bottemiller Evich contributed to this report.

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Nicola Sturgeon Has Banned Household Mixing In Scotland And Claimed English Measures Do Not Go Far Enough

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has banned household mixing (Credit: PA)

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Nicola Sturgeon has announced a ban on households mixing in Scotland, claiming experts say the restrictions introduced in England by Boris Johnson do not go far enough.

The first minister said the Scottish government’s top experts had warned the curbs announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday would not make a big enough impact on Covid-19 transmission rates.

“The advice given to the Cabinet by the chief medical officer and the national clinical director is that this on its own will not be sufficient to bring the R number down,” she told the Scottish parliament.

“They stress that we must act, not just quickly and decisively, but also on a scale significant enough to have an impact on the spread of the virus, and they advise that we must take account of the fact that household interaction is a key driver of transmission.”

Mr Johnson has imposed a 10pm curfew on the hospitality industry from midnight on Thursday, as well as a legal requirement for those working in the sector, and in retail, to wear masks.

The PM stopped short of preventing different households from socialising with each other outside of local lockdown areas, but said people should work from home wherever possible.

Mrs Sturgeon said she planned to impose similar restrictions on pubs, bars and restaurants but would also go further.

“To that end, we intend as Northern Ireland did yesterday to also introduce nationwide additional restrictions on household gatherings, similar to those already in place in the west of Scotland,” she added.

Earlier in the Commons, Mr Johnson claimed the four nations of the UK were following “similar” restriction plans, despite Northern Ireland announcing on Monday that it would ban socialising between households.

This applies in places like pubs and restaurants as well as in people’s homes.

In Wales, people are not allowed to mix indoors with people outside their own household or support bubble, and meetings or gatherings indoors even within an extended household is limited to six people.

Reports suggest insiders were worried about the prospect of Mrs Sturgeon diverging and implementing a “circuit-breaker” of stricter measures – leaving the actions of Mr Johnson’s government further exposed should they fail.

Some members of the prime minister’s frontbench – including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel – are believed to have lobbied for lighter intervention, while other cabinet ministers were in favour of a more drastic approach.

Mr Johnson told MPs: “I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March.  We’re not issuing a genuine instruction to stay at home, we will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.”

He added: “We will continue to act against local flare ups, working alongside councils and strengthening measures where necessary.”

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