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Group of ACC Athletes Urge Congress to Pass National NIL Law

They describe the current uneven playing field of name, image and likeness as a “Wild West philosophy."

The push for Congress to pass a federal bill to govern name, image and likeness (NIL) isn’t over just yet.

A group of ACC athletes has sent a letter to high-ranking U.S. Senators imploring them to create and pass a universal law. One athlete (two from Syracuse) from each of the 15 ACC schools, including Notre Dame, signed the letter, which asserts reasons that a federal law is necessary and outlines three aspects that lawmakers should consider when designing a Congressional NIL bill.

Nearly three months into the era of athlete compensation, athletes say that NIL, while beneficial, has created an uneven playing field, describing the current situation as a “Wild West NIL philosophy.” They fear that the disparities in NIL policies among universities and states will negatively impact recruiting. In the ACC’s 10-state footprint, for instance, schools in four states operate under an NIL state law, two states are under an NIL executive order and four more states have no guidance, resulting in their schools creating their own policies.

ACC logo

The differences are striking. While some athletes are allowed to join group licensing agreements and partner with professional sports teams, others cannot even use their school’s logos and colors in sponsorship ventures. In some states, schools are actively arranging NIL deals for athletes while others are banned from such an act.

“These conditions are completely dependent on where student-athletes are located and therefore under which NIL laws they are governed,” the athletes write. “Consequently, there are stark recruiting advantages and disadvantages that can influence where student-athletes complete their collegiate eligibility.”

The letter, obtained by Sports Illustrated, is available here.

Forced into the situation because of a bevy of state NIL laws, the NCAA lifted its decades-long rule prohibiting athletes from earning money from endorsement and business opportunities on July 1. However, because of legal concerns, the governing body of college athletics only provided its members with a list of guiding principles. Schools in states without an NIL law created their own policies. Those in states with a state law are following the law.

It has left some schools at a tremendous advantage, says Luke Phillips, a junior distance runner at Notre Dame who helped author the letter.

“We need an equal playing field. We need a federal baseline to go off of,” Phillips tells SI. “We can’t have some athletes and universities disadvantaged because of the state in which they are located.”

Foreseeing these problems, NCAA leaders have encouraged lawmakers to create a uniform standard for the last two years. More than a half-dozen NIL bills have been introduced in Congress, but because of disagreements on both the breadth and concepts of a law, no bill has yet to even advance through committee.

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Three Senate committees have held six hearings on the subject. Next week, the House of Representatives will hold a hearing.

“We want to keep the pressure on,” Phillips says. “We know Washington has a lot to deal with, but we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas. It’s powerful when a group of athletes come together. This was a student-athlete led, grass-roots campaign. It’s truly something impacting us and it’s not just a hypothetical.”

Athletes recommend lawmakers consider three principles when designing an NIL bill:

• Allow athletes to enter group licensing deals at the discretion of school and permit them to market themselves while using institution trademarks and logos.

• Require athletes attend annual educational sessions as well as install a national NIL rule-enforcing entity to ensure compliance from athletes, schools and third parties.

• Do not completely change the “collegiate model” that might leave schools no choice but to reduce scholarships and cut programs for budgetary reasons.

“As student-athletes from both revenue-generating and Olympic sports, representing a Power 5 conference in a multi-billion dollar industry, we truly believe this unifying, federal solution will shape college athletics for the better,” the letter says.

Athletes sent the letter to leaders of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, the presiding group with jurisdiction over the issue, including Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington); Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.); Jerry Moran (R-Kansas); and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also received a copy of the letter.

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The letter is signed by the 16 athletes who serve as presidents of their school’s student-athlete advisory committee: Declan McGranahan (Boston College); George Marks (Clemson); Wil Hoyle IV (Duke); Jenna Johnson (Florida State); Nicole Fegans (Georgia Tech); Evan Conley (Louisville); Sydney Knapp (Miami); Jillian Shippee (North Carolina); Leon Krapf (North Carolina State); Max Siegel II (Notre Dame); Olivia Miller (Pittsburgh); Emma Gossman (Syracuse); Eleanor Lawler (Syracuse); Cabrel Happi (Virginia); Kahlil Dover (Virginia Tech); and Lyndon Wood (Wake Forest).

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