By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor, Video by: Siegrid Massey | Broadcast Reporter
President Linda Livingstone testified in front of Congress Thursday morning in Washington, D.C., to discuss problems regarding many of the challenges facing intercollegiate athletics.
The legislative hearing for the U.S. House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce of the Committee on Energy and Commerce was named “A Level Playing Field: College Athletes’ Rights to Their Name, Image and Likeness.”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision on June 30, the NCAA Board of Governors voted unanimously to implement an interim policy to allow college athletes to be compensated for the use of their NIL. The new policy allows collegiate athletes to earn compensation for participating in sports camps, social media posts, autograph signings and endorsement deals, all of which had previously been prohibited. Schools in states without NIL laws will be able to develop their own policies as long as they do not violate the NCAA’s prohibitions on pay-for-play and improper recruiting inducements.
The result of the ruling has led to mass confusion for colleges and student-athletes, as each state has their own NIL laws.
“As of today, 35 states have passed laws, introduced legislation or issued executive orders to govern name, image and likeness,” Dr. Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, said. “These statutes and proposed policies have disparate provisions. In some cases, they attempt to legislate well beyond the issue of NIL and turn college athletes into paid professionals of the school. Even those laws that appear to have similar intent are written differently and can be interpreted and enforced differentially depending upon the state.”
On June 14, Texas passed a NIL law for their colleges and institutions allowing intercollegiate student-athletes the ability to earn compensation for the use of their NIL in the state. However there are stipulations, such as the law which prohibits collegiate athletes from earning NIL compensation from an endorsement from an alcohol company.
Senior forward Matthew Mayer was the first Baylor athlete to take advantage of the NIL law, signing a deal with Visiting Angels over the summer.
With the differences in state laws regarding NIL, there has been a push for federal legislation to give clear guidelines for what is allowed so there is a more uniformed approach to handling NIL situations, while also preventing pay-to-play models which sees universities paying athletes to play at their school.
“The NCAA, and its schools, fully support the right of every college athlete to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness,” Emmert said. “We firmly believe that there is an urgent need for Congress to enact a federal framework that supports national NIL legislation for all of our college athletes.”
Other witnesses that testified included Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, Jacqie McWilliams, commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and Washington State University golfer Cameron March.
For those that want federal involvement in terms of NIL laws, Livingstone advocated for students to be made more aware of the business side of athletics in relation to NIL, as well as removing universities from the equation.
“Federal legislation should preempt all current and future NIL state laws, which would guarantee that all student-athletes have the same NIL rights regardless of where they live or study,” Livingstone said. “Next, the legislation should include clear definitions of NIL as commercial activity between student-athletes and third parties, not between student-athletes and universities. It should prohibit pay-for-play models, operating solely as an incentive to enroll or remain at an institution as a student-athlete. Also, federal legislation should seek to enhance the student-athlete experience and preserve diversity and sport offerings for men and women, and ensure student-athletes can seek qualified advice about the use of their NIL. Finally, the legislation should include a narrow safe harbor for entities that comply with the law. Otherwise, institutions are at risk of endless litigation that could threaten our core missions.”
As a former Division I student-athlete in women’s basketball at Oklahoma State University, Livingstone is a member of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, NCAA Board of Governors and the NCAA Constitution Committee. She also serves as Vice Chair of the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors and Secretary of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education. In addition to her own student-athlete experience, she is the spouse and mother of former Division I student-athletes.
However, not everyone agrees that Congress should get involved due to fear that federal involvement will end up doing more harm than good by restricting athletes from getting the full benefits of NIL.
“College athletes nationwide now have NIL freedoms, so there’s not a need for Congress to act on this issue,” Huma said. “But it’s imperative that any federal law include broad-based reforms, and the NIL portion of such legislation should not reduce athletes’ NIL freedoms in pursuit of a level playing field that has never existed. Federal courts have concluded multiple times that a level playing field did not exist under NCAA rules that banned NIL pay. Colleges with the most revenues and wealthiest boosters have the largest recruiting budgets, hire the best coaches, build the best facilities, and in turn they land the best recruits, win the most games and score the richest TV deals, allowing them to continue their dominance. Instead of reducing NIL freedoms so the NCAA can pretend competitive equity exists, Congress’s NIL efforts should focus on establishing an entity responsible for the national certification of athlete representation, preventing conflicts of interest by restricting colleges from representing their athletes or arranging NIL deals and informing college athletes about issues surrounding NIL. And any reasonable restraint of trade, like prohibiting NIL deals for being used to recruit prospective college athletes, should be done directly by Congress, rather than putting the NCAA above the law, with an antitrust exemption.”
Also, Huma said the NCAA has more pressing issues than NIL that Congress can handle, including health and safety concerns of student-athletes.
“Between 2000 and 2018, 85 college athletes have died from college sports activities,” Huma said. “In the following years, NCAA athletic trainer surveys found 50% of Division I athletic trainers have admitted to returning players with concussions to the same game, and said they were pressured by coaches to do so. There have been devastating accounts of suicides among college athletes who were later determined to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE … Just ask Martin McNair whose son, Jordan McNair, died during a football workout in 2018 that the University of Maryland President admitted was negligent.”
Another pressing issue according to Huma is sexual assault among student-athletes.
“Just last week, the U.S. DOJ reported that a team trainer from San Jose State sexually abused 23 female college athletes over the course of years,” Huma said. “This Congress must prioritize college athletes’ health and safety. Inaction on this issue will guarantee a lifetime of pain for too many college athletes abused by sexual predators and will be a death sentence for others.”
While there isn’t a consensus on what steps should be taken in the future, there is an agreement that current NIL laws are not enough to ensure student-athletes are being compensated for what they bring to their respective universities.
“Now is the time to recommit and reshape college athletics to better serve the future needs of our students and our institutions,” Livingstone said. “Congress has an important role in shaping the future of college athletics and should establish a uniform national standard to address the many challenges becoming evident around NIL legislation.”