Congress United on Need for National NIL Standard

Washington, D.C. (March 29, 2023): Congress jumped into the Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) debate today with a House hearing on the challenges faced by student-athletes and colleges/universities under the current model of different NIL laws from state to state. Republicans and Democrats do not agree on much these days, but they do agree on the need for a national standard of uniform NIL laws with greater transparency to protect student-athletes, preserve non-revenue sports, help smaller schools maintain broad sports options, and reign in improprieties by “Collectives” in their pursuit of recruits.

The witnesses spanned all aspects of college sports, with an HBCU School Administrator, a Pac-10 Athletic Director, the Patriot League Commissioner, a former college and NFL football player, a current softball player, and an advocate for unionizing college athletes. With the exception of the union advocate, the panel was unanimous in their agreement on the need for federal intervention with national standards to level the playing field for athletes and schools. All parties agreed that education was the single biggest benefit of playing college sports, but that schools need to do more on financial literacy to help athletes make informed NIL decisions.

Primary concerns raised during the hearing included the threat to non-revenue sports, especially Title IX sports; recruitment abuses by “Collectives”, including tampering with athletes currently enrolled in other schools; use of the “Transfer Portal” to seek better NIL deals; potential loss of amateur status from NIL; and the negative impact of NIL on small schools’ sports programs. The witnesses also acknowledged that the NCAA is unable to enforce recruitment rules under the current model. Congressional members in the hearing and all witnesses, except the union advocate, agreed that student-athletes should never be employees of the school.   

The union advocate took the opposite position on most issues – saying no national NIL standards are needed and advocating for the creation of athlete unions for direct negotiations with schools/conferences on a collective bargaining agreement for student-athletes. The union advocate also took a contrary position on student-athletes being employees of the school and believes athletes should be part of a revenue-sharing agreement with schools.  

With the parties in agreement, Congress will work on a national NIL standard, but it will not be easy with so many competing interests and certain states benefitting more than others under the current system. It may take time, but the current system of 30 states having a variety of NIL laws with 20 having no NIL laws will eventually be replaced by a national standard drafted by Congress.  

For more information or for questions, please contact Bill Sells, SVP, Government & Public Affairs, at [email protected].

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