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As NIL hearing nears, 'Are we going to have Congress run college sports?'

Eric Prisbellby:Eric Prisbell10/16/23


With the 10th NIL hearing on Capitol Hill scheduled for Tuesday, attention again turns to the NCAA’s efforts to secure long-sought federal reform legislation.

A growing number of industry voices believe the NCAA needs a Houston Cougars-like Hail Mary to land the key items on its wish list: a preemption of state NIL laws, limited antitrust protection and a designation that athletes are not university employees.

But as the NCAA looks for a congressional lifeline, some leading stakeholders caution: Be careful what you wish for.

“Are we going to have Congress-run college sports?” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco told On3 in an exclusive interview. “Are they going to layer on a bunch of things that we don’t really want, and require us to do things that we don’t want to do or can’t afford to do as part of a bill?”

Like many college sports leaders, Aresco welcomes a bill that addresses further NIL transparency and guardrails. Also needed is some antitrust protection, he said, “because we are getting sued over nonsense. College sports is not the candy store for these lawyers – that’s how they view it now.”

The NCAA is engaged in multiple legal battles, from the House antitrust suit in Oakland to the Johnson case in Pennsylvania. And it is just weeks away from an important National Labor Relations Board hearing that will weigh whether certain athletes are employees of their universities.

Mike Aresco: Knew NIL ‘would turn into this’

Mike Aresco said his biggest issue in the NIL space is how donor-driven collectives operate.

He referenced the Crimson Collective, the NIL collective for Utah athletics, which is leasing every scholarship football player a 2024 Ram Big Horn 1500 truck. Each truck retails at $61,000 – in total, the deal is estimated to be roughly $6 million in value.

“The whole thing is absurd,” Aresco said. “It’s great that the kids will have a truck to drive for the next few years. Some of it, you can’t get too worked up over. Everything adapts. And we’ll have to adapt to this. But I hate to see the professionalization of college sports because these are just kids. They’re 18 years old or 19 years old. To some extent, you have to earn this.”

The desire for a national preemption of state NIL laws is a topic sure to be broached in Tuesday’s hearing. Witnesses include NCAA President Charlie Baker and Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti.

“States are all trying to give their schools an advantage,” Aresco said. “That is not what college sports is supposed to be. You could argue that NIL – we knew it would turn into this. That’s why there was no NIL for many years. Everybody could see what it might turn into. It’s turned into pay-for-play and has nothing to do with NIL.”