A few months ago, state legislatures were hacking away at the foundations of NCAA “amateurism” by passing laws to allow students athletes to receive compensation for use of their name, image, and likeness. Celebrity athletes such as LeBron James, Draymond Green, and Richard Sherman praise the fall of the NCAA “amateurism” model and look forward to the dismantling of the “corrupt” NCAA. BUT, how does COVID-19 affect this? Given the uncertainty surrounding the economy, are players going to fight even harder to receive what is owed to them?
Most might assume that the NIL fight has been halted, given the recent pandemic and its ability to put a hold on most everything in our lives. However, NCAA Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun said Tuesday morning that her group will meet as originally planned in late April to push legislation forward.
In an interview, Calhoun stated, “It is absolutely still on course, and I can tell you that I haven’t witnessed any slowdown whatsoever. The working groups continue to convene very regularly, and we are still on pace to deliver initial recommendations to the full council for its April meeting, which of course will take place virtually.”
Not My Job: NCAA, State Legislatures, or Congress?
Although state legislatures took the lead at the end of 2019 to push NIL rights for student athletes, many argue that this is not the correct route for this hot issue. Sports attorney Richard Roth notes, “the issues involving college athlete compensation will head into a tailspin if legislation is not nationalized. The NCAA has to take the lead to assist legislatures through the process. Any other solution – like allowing the states to enact laws – will result in endless headaches.” Highlighted here is the fear that states may try to one-up each other that will help attract student-athletes to schools in their states. At the end of the day, the concern here is the interests of the student-athletes and there is a concern that these interests could be steamrolled by conflicting rules and regulations.
Other critics argue that state legislatures enacting varying bills is simply muddying the waters and that it is Congress’ job to step in and pass a federal law that would govern all students’ use of NIL. At this point in time, it looks like the federal government is taking notice, where a hearing on NCAA athlete compensation was held by the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection in early February, 2020. Whether the federal government enacts a law across the board regarding student athlete compensation and NIL or dictates that every individual state makes its own rules is still in question.
Rep. Mark Waller opposed allowing the NCAA to handle this issue, and put forth the first Congressional NIL bill. His bill, which would give athletes the rights to their name, image, and likeness under no other terms or limitations, was meant to be a simple “first step.” Skeptical that the NCAA is really pushing this forward and making it a priority he states, “Let’s not forget, this is something they’ve been promising to work on for the last couple years,” Walker said. “This isn’t just something that blew up in the last couple months.”
NIL following COVID-19
While many think that COVID-19 has put many non-urgent, non-health related issues on the back burner and that conversations surrounding student athlete NIL have been silenced for the time being, it is arguable that COVID-19 is highlighting how immense these issues truly are. Thanks to COVID-19 and its impact on the economy, the entire nation is worried about making sure everyone is compensated properly and able to survive. Enter the student athlete, who has been overlooked when it comes to compensation for NIL. Even more concerning is the number of student athletes who come from lower socio-economic families and face inadequate living conditions or even inability to afford three meals per day.
The current pandemic has shed light on how many people struggle financially and is making the federal government answer for income disparities. Not only would NIL compensation assist student athletes in affording the necessities of life, but it would also help gauge students toward an entrepreneurial mindset, as they begin to invest in their futures. NIL compensation for student athletes would give institutions an opportunity to teach these students about financial literacy, giving student athletes a fighting chance in life after graduation.
One thing is certain: life after COVID-19 will be a new frontier for all of us. It is vital the nation move forward with kindness and compassion, looking forward to ensuring financial stability for all. Student athletes fighting for compensation for NIL rights are among those vulnerable populations that we must look out for. Keeping the conversation going and holding the NCAA to their promises of enacting fair compensation for these student athletes is the least we can do.