Congress tackles NIL, transfer rules

The rapid de-regulation of college athletics has empowered athletes to profit from their name, image or likeness, and has liberalized transfer rules to the point where athletes are free agents who are able to move from school to school, often motivated by the highest bidder.

On one hand, the dramatic changes are long overdue since college athletes—especially football and basketball players—were cheap labor for years while athletic departments raked in mountains of television money and coaches’ salaries exploded.

But on the other hand, the meteoric shift has created confusion and destabilized the traditional model for college sports. Colleges, conferences and even states have their own ideas about what the new paradigm should be.

College athletics desperately needs some rules that all institutions play by, but all the schools and their conferences are separate entities with disparate ideas about the new landscape. In the absence of consensus, now Congress is getting involved.

And many athletic directors want that because they want cost certainty, and coaches want more roster certainty. This week, athletics directors who belong to the LEAD1 Association met with members of Congress in Washington to get their take on the possibility of federal regulation.

As USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz reported, “They all but cheered when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he believed there was a 60-40 chance that Congress will pass a college-sports bill that the AD’s and NCAA officials hope bring some national order” to college athletics.

Others believe Cruz is overly optimistic, however, there are several bills on the issue, including one sponsored by West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, a former college coach.

Here are several key provisions of the bill:

–It ensures collectives that raise funds for NIL are affiliated with the colleges rather than acting as independent fundraisers who dole out money to athletes.

–Agents who represent players must register with the Federal Trade Commission.

–All NIL contracts with athletes would have to be filed with the FTC and available to the public.

–The bill requires that athletes complete at least three years at their school before being eligible to transfer. There are exceptions, including when a coach takes another job.

–One percent of revenue from post-season tournaments and playoffs would be deposited into a fund to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for athletes for a period after they leave school.

–The NCAA would be responsible for investigating violations of the law and would refer findings to the FTC which would be empowered to hand down civil penalties.

Who knows whether the Manchin-Tuberville bill goes too far or not far enough?  Maybe most politicians really do not want to wade into the chaos of college sports? Perhaps it is not even possible to craft federal legislation that can fairly untangle the Gordian Knot of college sports.

But it feels like the current “model,” and I use the term loosely, is not sustainable. The failure of college presidents, who make the rules and run the NCAA, to be proactive on the amateur status and transfer issues, unleashed a Wild West atmosphere in college sports.

Now it is going to be up to the United States government to try to fix it.

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