SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Amid unrest within college sports, two Power 5 commissioners are traveling to the nation’s capital to lobby lawmakers for the creation of federal legislation to regulate name, image and likeness (NIL), a US Senate aid told Sports Illustrated on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey will meet with US senators on Capitol Hill to fight for a congressional mandate to regulate what has evolved into the NCAA’s latest festering problem. Sankey and Kliavkoff, two of the industry’s most influential leaders, are teaming up to encourage lawmakers to pass an NIL statute. They are also expected to seek senators’ help in preventing what they believe is another potential issue looming for college sports: employment status for college athletes.
The primary topic, though, is NIL, a 10-month-old concept that gives athletes the right to monetize their image.
The two commissioners have meetings set with at least two senators, including Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and potentially additional lawmakers, the aide told SI on the condition of anonymity. While not unusual—NCAA leaders have spent three years lobbying Congress for an NIL bill—Sankey and Kliavkoff’s trip comes amid a somewhat chaotic stretch in the sport. It is reaching a climax.
NIL has rapidly turned into what college leaders say is a pay-for-play scheme. College football’s most wealthy donors have orchestrated business ventures that are distributing five, six and even seven-figure payments to athletes under the guise of NIL endorsement opportunities and appearance fees, officials say.
Sports Illustrated detailed the situation in a wide-ranging story published Monday, revealing an unregulated, high-priced bidding war for college football and men’s basketball players. Officials are springing into action. They are expected to release more NIL guidance next week aimed at preventing boosters from being involved in recruiting and open the door for schools not controlling their donors’ spending to be found in violation of NCAA rules.
The commissioners are seeking a federal solution to NIL, which industry experts believe is the only real solvent for this burgeoning problem. However, many believe it’s a longshot for this year.
Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on legislation last year before a July 1 deadline that saw several states enact laws, forcing the NCAA to ditch its longtime amateurism policy governing athlete compensation. Instead of implementing a permanent NIL policy—out of fear of legal trouble—the NCAA released only vague guidelines that boosters are now skirting.
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On Capitol Hill, the disagreement among leaders from the two parties centers on the structure of a bill. While Republicans want a narrow bill that focuses only on NIL, Democrats are supporting more broad legislation—a sort-of college athletes bill of rights that touches on topics such as revenue sharing and long-term healthcare. The two sides could not reach a compromise despite positive movement last May, as YES documented.
Some lawmakers have expressed concern with the current state of NIL. Wicker, in fact, sent a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert earlier this spring to express his concern with how NIL was being used in the game.
“I support student-athletes benefiting from the use of their name, image, and likeness,” Wicker said in a statement to SI. “However, the NCAA interim policy did not establish clear guardrails to prevent pay-for-play schemes or transfer inducements. This policy has created confusion for universities and a large gray area that could benefit bad actors. I’m continuing to monitor this situation closely to identify areas for improvement. Whether that solution will come from the NCAA, state legislatures, or Congress is yet to be seen.”
Blumenthal told SI earlier this spring that he’s heard about the “different practices” around NIL and that these will likely “force a return to the topic.” However, he does not expect that to come soon.
“Our dance card between now and the end of the year is pretty full. In 2022, maybe we’ll come back to it,” he says.
In many ways, Sankey and Kliavkoff are taking up a battle that Emmert failed to win. Since December 2019, the outgoing NCAA president has lobbied for a federal solution to combat mounting state laws.
“If you, Congress, want college sports to continue in this fashion over here, we need your help to do that,” he said earlier this spring.
As for employment status, the wheels are in motion for athletes to be deemed as employees of their schools, both in the courts and among leaders of the National Labor Relations Board, something detailed in an SI story earlier this spring.
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