NCAA third-quarter lobbying tops all of 2013 amid reform push

The National Collegiate Athletic Association spent more on congressional lobbying from July through September than it did in all of 2013 as it continued to fight lawsuits challenging its structure.

College sports’ governing body spent $230,000 on lobbying during the three-month period, according to public disclosures listed on the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate websites. The Indianapolis-based NCAA has spent $470,000 on lobbying through three quarters this year. Its previous high in any year since 2000 was $180,000, which it spent in both 2007 and 2013.

The lobbying was for “issues relating to research on sports concussions to improve prevention, identification and treatment efforts; and issues relating to intercollegiate athletics and the well-being of student-athletes,” the NCAA said in its disclosure form. Emily James, an NCAA spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that it wouldn’t have any additional comment.

The spending comes as athletes challenge the college sports business model, while organizing bodies such as the NCAA, conferences and schools work to develop a new system.

The NCAA is appealing an Aug. 8 ruling by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken that found the NCAA’s current structure to be a cartel in violation of antitrust laws by limiting what schools can offer athletes. The NCAA no longer can cap scholarships below the full cost of attendance and players should be paid for the use of their names, images and likeness, Wilken ruled. Her injunction overturning the rules would take effect on Aug. 1, 2015, if not successfully appealed.

Wilken also ruled in August that as of Aug. 1, 2015, the NCAA must scrap rules barring players from seeking a share of its $800 million in annual broadcast revenue. That ruling also is being appealed.

Antitrust lawsuit

The NCAA is also confronted with an antitrust lawsuit brought by labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler and an attempt by football players at Northwestern University to create college sports’ first athletes’ union.

One option the NCAA could take toward protecting its current model is to ask Congress for an antitrust exemption, according to attorney Len Elmore, a former college basketball player who is now a game analyst for CBS Sports.

In July, two U.S. congressmen co-sponsored a bill that called for increased financial transparency from athletic departments, conferences and the NCAA.

In August, the NCAA granted autonomy to its five richest conferences: the Atlantic Coast, Pacific-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern. The new structure allows the conferences to set their own rules in key areas such as financial aid and insurance.

Senate inquiry

The previous month, NCAA President Mark Emmert testified about the state of college athletics before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The committee sent a letter to the presidents of the power-conference schools in September, seeking clarity on how they intended to address issues such as scholarship structures, health care and concussions, course loads and financial compensation for players.

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