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Four months after California passed landmark legislation allowing college athletes to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness, the White House could be joining the effort to find a federal solution to the issue.
“The White House wants to make sure NCAA student athletes are treated fairly without harming the integrity of college sports,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement Friday. “Administration officials are in the process of learning more about these issues, as well as studying if it would be appropriate for the federal government to become involved with policy solutions.”
The statement, first reported by CBS Sports, comes as legislation similar to California’s is being prepared or has been introduced in at least two dozen states. The potential of a patchwork of different state laws regulating NIL has prompted the NCAA and lawmakers to try and find a wide-ranging answer.
White House staffers met recently about the issue, according to Tom McMillen, president and chief executive of the Lead1 Association, which represents athletic directors at the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision schools. It’s not clear who attended the meeting.
“It’s a nuanced, complicated subject,” McMillen said. “I’m not surprised policymakers are looking for information resources.”
The NCAA, which called the California legislation “unconstitutional” and an “existential threat” last year, was tight-lipped about any discussions with the White House.
“We appreciate the interest of the White House and Administration officials and share their interest in making sure that student-athletes are treated fairly without harming the integrity of college sports,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with them.”
Ramogi Huma, the former UCLA football player who is executive director of the National College Players Assn. and a leading figure in the movement to reform college sports, hasn’t talked to the White House about NIL.
“Our position is that federal legislation is not necessary,” he said, “but, if enacted, it should reflect the intentions of the 28 states nationwide seeking to allow college athletes to secure representation independent of their colleges and the NCAA as well as the ability to earn money without caps from third parties for use of their name, image and likeness.”
McMillen said he knows there is a contingent of federal lawmakers who favor states handling NIL. While the California legislation won’t take effect until 2023, a similar bill in Florida would go into effect July 1 if it becomes law. In that case, McMillen said, the NCAA likely would seek an injunction in court to delay and buy time for a federal solution.
U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), two of the most prominent federal lawmakers who have publicly supported changing NCAA name, image and likeness rules, didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday on the White House statement.
Emmert and Huma are among six witnesses scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protection about compensation for college athletes.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod and Kendall Spencer, chairman of the NCAA’s student-athlete advisory committee, also will testify.
In October, the NCAA’s Board of Governors approved changing the organization’s rules in a “manner consistent with the collegiate model,” but the practical impact of the caveat isn’t known.
Member schools discussed “general concepts” about name, image and likeness rule changes at the NCAA convention last month, but members aren’t expected to vote on legislation until next January.
It remains to be seen how much the power brokers in college athletics will be willing to bend on NIL rules. McMillen said in 2018 that only 26% of college athletic directors supported NIL use related to athletic performance.
“That was really before, I think, public opinion shifted,” McMillen said. “I’d say the vast majority of our ADs are in favor of it with guardrails. Their big concern is recruiting. If you can assure some kind of fair market value, and that the transactions are going to be bona fide, that would go a long way. What they don’t want to see is a kid being compensated not for his intrinsic value but because of some recruiting value.”