NCAA President Mark Emmert told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday that he will be meeting in Washington next week with senators and congressmen concerning legislation based around college athletes ability to make money from use of their names, images and likenesses. The meetings have taken on greater urgency as the number of states enacting related laws with effective dates of July 1 or sooner has grown to six in recent weeks.
On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that brought his state alongside Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and New Mexico with college-sports name, image and likeness (NIL) laws set for July 1. Last summer, Nebraska enacted an NIL law that allows its colleges to select any date on or before July 1, 2023 for implementation.
Altogether, there are now at least 13 states with these types of laws, and NCAA officials — along with those representing various conferences and schools — have been lobbying for a single federal measure. Three bills have been introduced in this Congressional session, and Emmert is set to meet with one of those authors, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., on Wednesday, a spokesman for Moran said Saturday.
The NCAA also has been considering changes to its NIL rules, a move that would fundamentally alter a system of amateurism that prevents athletes from participating in endorsement deals, monetizing their social-media followings or getting paid for signing autographs amid an enterprise that generates billions of dollars for their schools. But the NCAA’s proposals would conflict with some provisions of state laws.
Emmert mentioned meetings, in person or via Zoom, with numerous other lawmakers, including Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and the committee’s ranking member, Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
But time is running short for a bill to get through Congress and the White House by July 1.
“It obviously gets harder with every passing day because of just the timelines of getting things done on short notice in the Congress,” Emmert said. “And Congress is, of course, busy with a whole bunch of other things — big picture issues — that vastly exceed the world of college sports in America.”
In addition, while the NCAA wants clarity on NIL, it also wants protection from future antitrust lawsuits related to its athlete-compensation rules. That has met resistance from Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who are pushing for legislation that would include help for athletes that goes beyond NIL rights.
“There’s a lot of effort going into it and a lot of serious possibilities of getting it done,” Emmert said. “Whether it gets done on July 1 or after is, I think is one call. But I believe that the recognition that we need a federal (law), rather than 50 individual state laws, is clear and we hopefully we can accomplish that sooner or later.”
Meanwhile, echoing comments that The New York Times published Saturday, Emmert reiterated his commitment that, regardless of Congressional action, the NCAA will approve new, loosened NIL rules in time for the start of the 2021-22 school year. The NCAA had been set to vote on such rule changes in January, but tabled the matter after the Supreme Court chose to hear the association’s appeal of the Alston antitrust case. The then-leader of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, also sent a letter to Emmert that expressed strong concerns on the association’s approaches to NIL and athlete transfers.
“We — meaning the NCAA, the members, (the association’s governing) boards, schools, me — we’ve made commitments to our student-athletes that we would have an opportunity for them to monetize their name, image and likeness by this coming school year,” Emmert said. “… We’ve got the rules drafted. The only thing that’s needed now from the NCAA’s side of it is, is a vote. And we need to get that vote done. … There’s no reason why we can’t do this, and I’m confident we will.”
The precise timing for when that vote will occur remains to be seen. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said his conference and others in the Power Five have been advised by their attorneys to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Alston case “just to make sure, in an abundance of caution, that we don’t do something that’s going to be contrary to what the court mandate is.”
A ruling is likely to come later this month or in June. The Alston case does not directly pertain to NIL, but the justices could address the NCAA’s authority to make its own rules in certain areas without facing antitrust lawsuits.
But Bowlsby — who chairs an NCAA committee that has been working on NIL rules changes — agreed with Emmert on the need for action by the NCAA. “I think the worst thing that we could have is nothing in place on July 1,” Bowlsby said.
He said that absent a federal law, “probably the next-best position is to have both the state laws in some areas and an (NCAA) rule that governs for the people who don’t have a state law” that would loosen NIL rules.
And Bowlsby said, in that scenario, the association and the schools likely would simply have to live with the differences between state laws and NCAA rules. If the NCAA wanted to undertake a legal challenge to state law, he said: “It’s going to be difficult for the association to do that without the schools in that state joining the suit, and no institution is going to sue their own state legislature.”
Emmert said that the NCAA may largely avoid this problem in the short term because the NCAA’s proposed rules changes look “very much like the state statutes that have been passed in the five states are going to be triggered here on July 1.” But “other states that are going to trigger downstream are quite a bit different.”
The NCAA’s proposed changes would give schools the ability to prevent athletes from having endorsement deals under certain circumstances. California’s law — which gives schools far less latitude — now has an effective date of Jan. 1, 2023. However, under a bill being considered by the state legislature, that would be moved up to the earlier of Jan. 1, 2022, or the date on which the NCAA’s rules governing NIL change.