NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday it is “highly probable” Congress will set national guidelines for how college athletes can be compensated for the use of their names, images and likenesses.
Emmert, who spoke at a forum sponsored by the Sports Business Journal, said he is spending most of his time trying to figure out how the Indianapolis-based NCAA and its member schools will allow thousands of athletes to get that kind of compensation under the auspices of amateur athletics.
He said he is also spending a lot of time in Washington, D.C., meeting with lawmakers, often with university presidents and other representatives from individual schools.
Last week, Sen. Chris Murphy and Sen. Mitt Romney announced the formation of a bipartisan congressional working group on the topic of athlete compensation.
“They want to hear from their home universities,” Emmert said. “Members of Congress care about college sports. They recognize how important it is to American society. They don’t want to do harm. They want to make it better. But it’s going to be a long road. It’s not going to be something that happens overnight.”
The issue gained urgency after California passed a law in October that will give college athletes the right to make money of things like endorsement deals and promoting businesses or products on their social media accounts. That law does not go into effect until 2023.
Since then, more than 20 other states have moved on similar legislation, with some states saying they would like new laws in place as soon as next year.
That would make it almost impossible for the NCAA to operate with consistent rules for all its members.
“This is an issue bigger than the NCAA. This is an issue bigger than an NCAA group,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “Where we’re going to head, I hope, is not simply a political discussion, but a thoughtful and informative conversation about how best to support student-athletes.”
A federal law would eliminate that potential problem, but the NCAA would like a say in what that looks like.
“If you had a completely unfettered sponsorship model like some state bills are anticipating, the nature of that can slide very quickly into an employee-employer relationship,” Emmert said.
The NCAA has had a working group sorting through name, image and likeness compensation since summer, before the Board of Governors last month cleared the way for athletes to be compensated “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”
The board gave its sprawling membership a deadline to make legislative changes by 2021.
Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is part of the NIL working group.
“This hasn’t, frankly, been the most enjoyable NCAA service that I have been involved with,” Bowlsby said. He said the timetable the NCAA has set is “doable.”
Ultimately what the NCAA does is likely to be dictated by lawmakers.
Temple University athletic director Patrick Kraft said he knows compensating athletes is on its way to becoming a reality. He said he is “not losing sleep” over the issue.
“I just want to know how am I going to protect my institution and protect (the athletes),” he said.
The NCAA and college sports leaders have generally been apprehensive about federal regulation. Once the door is open, it could be difficult for college sports leaders to dictate what is off limits to lawmakers.
‘’That’s going to be up to Congress,” Emmert said. “We’ll provide whatever input we can and answer whatever questions they want. They may well see other things they think could or should be addressed.”
Emmert, who has been in his job since October 2010, acknowledged some issues “can’t be really resolved without congressional action.”
“But nobody is talking about the federal government running college sports,” he said.