Throughout the 113-year history of the NCAA, the notion of federal government intervention in the management of college sports has generally been viewed with both skepticism and outright disdain. But NCAA president Mark Emmert has carried a new message into the halls of Congress lately on the nationwide push for college athletes to be able to profit off their name, image and likeness: We need help.
Emmert acknowledged Wednesday at a sports business conference in Manhattan that he has met with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate recently to discuss how federal legislation might help the NCAA deal with an onslaught of issues presented as more states pass bills similar to California’s “Fair Pay to Play Act.”
As a guy whose first option is always to brazen it out in the courts, that’s an admission that the NCAA is concerned the legislative brush fire on NIL rights risks turning into a full bore conflagration, one that the organization won’t be able to put out on its own through its working group.
Emmert is no doubt hoping he can lobby Congress into putting into law what the NCAA wants and nothing more, but this doesn’t sound like a guy who’s willing to play ball on the NCAA’s terms alone.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan Senate working group led by Murphy and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was announced last week to discuss how college athletes can be more fairly compensated. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C,) already has introduced a bill that would allow college athletes to make money off their names, images and likenesses. In addition, a legal challenge to the NCAA’s athlete-compensation rules has been set for oral argument before a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March.
“This whole thing is a house of cards that’s going to come down one way or the other,” Murphy said during a telephone interview Wednesday. “College athletics is trying to be a multi-billion-dollar industry without compensating the people who are making the product. That’s not going to stand in the long run from a moral perspective or a legal perspective.
“The college athletics industry created this problem by professionalizing itself over the course of years and one way or another, this is not sustainable because of public pressure — fans aren’t going to allow for the coaches and the schools and the companies to make billions of dollars while the students make almost nothing — or because the courts are going to step in.”
I suspect the compromise that’s going to be crafted will be to loosen the reins around NIL rights more than Emmert would like, in return for building a firewall around the idea that schools would have to pay college athletes directly. We’ll see.