There’s a college football team going somewhere with a shot at a national title. Consider Michigan, Alabama, Washington, and Texas.
And some people don’t.
Kent State University, Vanderbilt University, University of Akron, and University of Louisiana at Monroe. They were one of the worst Division I college football teams in 2023.
Legislation is like a football team. Some banknotes are sent to the sugar bowl. Other bills, like Kent’s, have struggled and are doomed to political oblivion.
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So where are the laws regulating how intercollegiate athletes use their name, image, and likeness (NIL)?
The bill governing NIL is a type of “mid-major” bill. They’re not the Big Ten or the SEC. It’s a bit like the Mid-American Conference or the Atlantic Ten.
This bill may become law. Maybe not.
And this is what some are concerned about as Congress legislates NIL.
On the field of NCAA sports, the rules are clear. But when it comes to NIL regulations for student-athletes to earn money, the picture is murky.
The NCAA realized that, being the NCAA, it could not establish a national standard for addressing NILs. So we asked Congress to get involved.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said, “We need rules so that it doesn’t become a wild west.” “That requires bipartisan agreement, and we’re not there yet. But we’re making real progress.”
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, was the head football coach at Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincinnati. He also supports legislation to create a uniform his NIL system.
“As a former coach, I don’t want to get involved in this,” Tuberville said. “But now we know all 50 states are doing something different.”
Tuberville promotes equity among athletes in different sports. Programs of varying sizes are problematic. There is little parity between schools playing in different states. Some state legislatures have passed laws encouraging athletes to play in their states because of NIL incentives.
NCAA President and former Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) supports Tuberville’s bill.
Tuberville’s plan is to transfer players who enter the transfer portal. Previously, student-athletes had to take a year off when changing programs.
“You can’t just get up and walk away. If you do that, you’re going to have to pay the price,” Tuberville argued when discussing the bill.
Power conference schools can now lure top athletes to secure even higher salaries. It’s reminiscent of professional free agency.
But not everyone is calling for Congressional intervention.
“I don’t want to say Congress should be involved,” Democratic Sen. Kevin Cramer said. “It doesn’t improve a lot of the things we do here.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) said some of his colleagues consider themselves “experts in every field” and that they have “enthusiasm rather than wisdom.” He added that this is often the case.
President Kennedy is concerned about Congress’ aggressive involvement in college sports.
“I warned NCAA athletic directors to be very careful before asking Congress to get involved, because Congress tends to micromanage,” Kennedy said.
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Individual universities are trying to help students control how they market themselves. However, there are limits to what schools can do.
Maribeth Kuzmeski is a marketing professor at Oklahoma State University. Before NIL, she had never worked with an athletic department. Kuzmeski said the school has begun offering classes on financial literacy and contract law for student-athletes. She is also part of what Oklahoma State University calls its “brand team” that promotes student-athletes and the university.
“We help them with their brand and help them find deals and opportunities for them and specifically help Oklahoma State’s NIL be more successful,” Kuzmeski said.
Initially, Kuzmeski said, “I really thought the deal was going to happen.” But instead, Oklahoma State began marketing athletes and packaging NIL. The school had students and the entire team host an event with a local pizzeria and sign autographs.
Still, universities have limitations when it comes to managing NIL.
“The NCAA has failed to do this, and I believe only Congress can level the playing field,” Kuzmeski said.
Others share Kuzmeski’s hope that Congress will take action. Kaylee Mudge is a softball outfielder at Florida State University.
“I feel like there are some members of Congress who are really passionate about this,” Mudge said.
But she added that lawmakers appear to be putting the NILs bill on the “backburner” as other priorities take precedence.
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Consider that Congress only approved more than 30 bills in 2023 that President Biden signed. In the middle of last week, that number was just 22. Congress narrowly managed to pass two bills to avoid a government shutdown and a plan to raise the debt ceiling. The same will apply in 2024. We haven’t even gotten into the internal political battles over Israel, Ukraine, and border security funding.
So, legislate NIL for “medium size” bills?
This may be equivalent to “Division III.”
This disappoints people like Madge, who had benefitted greatly by earning money on the side to pursue a nursing degree through NIL. Madge knows that softball doesn’t have long-term sustainability. However, she is able to establish her career as a nurse.
“NIL is becoming more about, ‘How can I save this money in the future?’ It’s not just, ‘How can I get as much money as I want right now?'” Madge said. Ta.
Still, some lawmakers say they’re just tired of paying for college sports.
Kevin Cramer of North Dakota was not involved in writing the bill that would set the NIL standard. But he says his focus on finances and marketing has made him lose interest in college sports.
“The idea that it could become a profession, which in my head is just what NIL is doing, goes against some of the sensibilities,” Kramer said.
And it’s something that upsets even those with a long history of intercollegiate athletics.
“This is going to separate large meetings,” Tuberville said. “There will be a small number of teams across the country, and those will be the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’
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This means that the current system will remain in place for the foreseeable future in college sports, and any legislation to address NILs will be relegated to Title III legislation.