NCAA Leaders Still Wary of NIL Modernization as Congress Aims for Federal Solution

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College athletic leaders continue to push back on the athlete compensation movement—even in response to a U.S. Senate committee inquiry.

Less than half of surveyed NCAA leaders support the modernization of rules governing name, image and likeness (NIL), and more than 80% believe that NIL rules will have a negative impact on amateurism.

The data is a result of feedback from officials at 50 NCAA conferences, associations, universities and colleges who responded to a 20-question letter from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Wicker is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, a powerful body that controls any NIL legislation in Congress. Wicker’s letter sought to help the Commerce Committee better understand an NIL debate that has raged across America and one that has found its way to Capitol Hill.

The Commerce Committee on Wednesday will hold a hearing on the subject, with guests that include SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter and Ohio State president Michael Drake. The hearing, “Exploring a Compensation Framework for Intercollegiate Athletes,” comes as the athlete compensation movement is full-throated.

Forced into action by on-going NIL legislation in dozens of states, the NCAA plans to end its prohibition on athlete compensation. The governing body of college athletics released a report in April that, while vague in nature, outlined a framework to allow its athletes the ability to earn compensation from events such as endorsement deals and autograph sessions. While NCAA leaders work to finalize a more concrete framework for approval in January, Congress has involved itself in the debate, partially at the NCAA’s behest. College athletic leaders are encouraging lawmakers to create universal NIL legislation that will supersede potential varying state laws.

They reinforced that viewpoint in responses to Wicker’s letter, according to the Senate Commerce Committee’s consolidated summary of the answers. Over 70% of respondents believe there is a need for a federal NIL standard, and almost all respondents say that a patchwork of state NIL laws would negatively impact their athletic departments, with concerns including inconsistent rules, enforcement issues and unfair recruiting advantages.

To a question asking if their institutions support modernizing NIL rules, just 40% of respondents agreed. To another question asking school officials to describe how NIL may impact amateurism, 84% of respondents answered that NIL would have a negative impact, with 5% believing there would be a positive effect.

Wednesday’s hearing is the second on the subject. In January, lawmakers skewered NCAA president Mark Emmert during a hearing before a Commerce Committee subcommittee. In the full Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, most members are expected to participate, either in person or virtually. Lawmakers are seeking to explore what a federal framework might look like. They’re hoping to get answers to a host of questions: the role of agents in NIL; third-party involvement; if the NCAA is the proper enforcement authority; an antitrust exemption, for which college leaders have asked; and any unintended consequences, such as adverse impacts on Olympic sports and female athletes.

A federal NIL bill feels more real than ever. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) recently announced an NIL bill, and several other lawmakers are drafting their own legislation. However, Congress, already a slow-moving body, is grappling with a pandemic, potentially slowing any progress on this front. There is a deadline of sorts. Florida’s state NIL law takes effect next July. Without a federal law, schools in Florida could quite literally play by different rules starting with the 2021 football season.