WASHINGTON – The next few days on Capitol Hill could be looked back upon as the start of real movement on the issue of name, image and likeness. The SEC is sending a delegation up to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with lawmakers in the conference’s footprint. Commissioner Greg Sankey and Alabama head coach Nick Saban are leading the effort.
All of this, however, could be another fruitless effort. The NCAA has been lobbying for a bill that includes antitrust protections, a uniform NIL standard and language that would ensure athletes are not employees of their schools.
Saban is scheduled to meet with Majority Leader Steve Scalise, according to Sports Illustrated. Each school’s convoy will meet with its state delegation. There will be crossover, too. Per SI, Mississippi State president Mark Keenum and school officials are expected to meet with Republican Marsha Blackburn, the Senator from Tennessee who is a Mississippi State graduate.
“There’s increasing interest and recognition of the need for Congressional engagement to resolve these issues,” Sankey said last week at SEC meetings. “What’s happening at the state level is exactly what we warned about. Our states are making a mess of college athletics. Our states are adopting laws that are not helpful to conduct conference competition and national competition.
“… Will Congress continue to provide the opportunity for a national solution? It’s not necessarily what any of us would have preferred four or five years ago, but it’s our current reality.”
NIL Collectives, other conferences traveling to Capitol Hill
The SEC is not alone in this fight, though. The University of Arizona is hosting a two-day summit dubbed “The Future of College Sports,” which includes a three-hour, open-house reception at the Capitol on Wednesday night with elected officials.
NCAA president Charlie Baker, Kansas State chancellor Douglas Girod, Clemson athletic director Graham Neff, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher will all be speaking on panels.
Five NIL collectives from Clemson, Georgia, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Washington are making the trip. Much of the legislation introduced since the inception of NIL has done little to protect athletes’ rights and the future of collectives. Walker Jones, who leads the Ole Miss-focused Grove Collective, is sitting on a panel at the summit.
The Tennessee-driven collective Spyre Sports has played a notable role in piecing together the collection of organizations. On3 has confirmed Spyre is also meeting with Blackburn on Wednesday.
What will SEC delegation use as evidence?
For the SEC delegation, the patchwork of state laws will that have been passed in recent weeks will be described to lawmakers as the main reason why NIL uniformity is needed. These bills are designed to prevent the NCAA from launching investigations into NIL activities. Other pieces of legislation would protect third-party entities that support an institution providing compensation to athletes.
Lawmakers in Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Texas have sponsored or passed these types of bills. Plus, NIL entities in Arkansas and Texas have opened the door for compensation models that have a closer connection to the school which is against the NCAA’s policy.
“We’re back where we were roughly two years ago when there was a reaction to a plethora of states passing NIL legislation, and the NCAA fearful that it would have to pivot and remove its blanket prohibition on NIL,” said attorney Darren Heitner, who works with institutions and collectives on NIL. “Ultimately, it did so, June 30, 2021. Back then, there were no less than 10 pieces of legislation proposed over the span of a couple of years. None of which ever reached the floor for debate.
“Now we have new blood in the form of a new NCAA president, Charlie Baker, who is absolutely much more polished than Mark Emmert and has much more extensive connections on Capitol Hill. Concurrent with that new appointment, we see a barrage of states sticking their middle fingers up at the NCAA.”
What type of NIL legislation could see movement?
If legislation even sees a vote seems to be up for debate. Democrats and Republicans continue to remain far apart on much of the language being introduced in these bills. One of the main arguments between the two parties has been over classifying athletes as employees.
One lobbyist On3 spoke with on background said he could envision a piece of NIL legislation proving to be something that unified both parties. If they could establish common ground, it could be the feel-good type of bill each could use to posture themselves on before the 2024 election cycle picks up.
For that to happen, however, a narrow bill would have to pick up steam. The best prospects currently sit with Rep. Gus Bilirakis. The Florida Republican is the chair of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which will probably control the legislation that is produced within the House of Representatives.
He released a discussion draft last month, which avoided taking a stance on employees. The legislation would ban pay-for-play by prohibiting boosters and collectives from inducements. A U.S. Intercollegiate Athletics Commission would be established, too, to oversee the NIL process.
The only other hope appears to be with U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). They are expected to release a piece of bipartisan legislation and have done the groundwork already to receive insight from collectives and college administrators and coaches.