Be careful what you wish for, Mark Emmert.
Nearly one year ago, inside a packed, high-ceilinged congressional meeting room, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic made such events virtual, Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, glared down from his pulpit at the president of the NCAA.
Sitting before a panel of inquisitive senators, in the true kickoff of the debate over athlete compensation on Capitol Hill, Mark Emmert begged for help from an entity that the NCAA had spent a century keeping out of its arena. He encouraged Congress to assist him with the issue of name, image and likeness (NIL), to intervene in the NCAA’s dealings, to save it from a plethora of differing state laws that threatened its amateurism model.
Seated on that high-rise platform and behind a mahogany lectern, Tester, in his rural twang, delivered a striking warning.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” he boomed. “You don’t want us to solve this.”
More than 11 months later, Tester’s threat rings deeply prophetic.
It’s not just a “to the victors go the spoils” threat. Right now, the bigger threat is that there’s a lot of stuff on Congress’ plate right now that’s more important than the NCAA’s future.
But maybe the most important news is that the shift in power is impacting the timeline of federal legislation. The new Biden administration is expected to steer the two chambers toward issues involving COVID-19 and the economy, further delaying any real movement on NIL.
In fact, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) believes college legislation will not move in Congress until after Biden’s first 100 days.
“We have bigger fish to fry,” says Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “I think it’s aggressive that we’re going to have a bill sitting on the president’s desk this summer.”
Such a delay could put the NCAA on a collision course with the state of Florida, whose state NIL law takes effect in July. As many as 20 more states could join the fray this spring by passing NIL legislation that kicks in over the summer, creating what some believe will be a chaotic environment where athlete compensation is governed by differing state laws instead of a universal policy.
Oh, I don’t think I’d worry about differing state laws too much. Where Florida goes, you can be damned sure the rest of the SEC will follow, and quickly.
From here, it looks like Emmert and Company are more and more likely to hope for a Hail Mary, in the form of a favorable Supreme Court ruling.
For the first time in more than 30 years, the Supreme Court will hear a case involving the NCAA. The high court will review a court decision in an antitrust lawsuit, NCAA v. Alston, that could dramatically impact the NCAA’s long-standing amateurism model. A Supreme Court decision in the case, which will review whether the NCAA’s eligibility rules regarding athlete compensation violate federal antitrust law, is expected by the end of June.
“If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the NCAA and amateurism, the NCAA can go to federal courts and argue Florida’s law needs to be stopped because it interferes with NCAA amateurism rules and those rules were blessed by the Supreme Court,” Feldman says. “It could bolster the NCAA’s argument that states should not be able to enact their own NIL laws.”
Eh, maybe that works, but given the NCAA’s litigation track record, I wouldn’t be too confident of that.
In the meantime, “… 11 months after Emmert sat in front of senators pleading for a congressional NIL bill and promising his own set of NIL laws, the NCAA sits empty handed, part of its own doing.” When it comes to amateurism, doing as little as possible has been the NCAA’s playbook. We’ll see how much longer that’s a viable approach.