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NCAA student-athlete pay debate needs federal input, Mark Emmert says

Thomas Barrabi

NCAA President Mark Emmert called on Congress to pass federal legislation governing student-athlete compensation Tuesday, warning the recent flood of state laws allowing college athletes to earn money could lead to corruption.

Emmert was one of several officials to appear before a U.S. Senate Committee to address the current state of amateurism in the NCAA. Facing pressure from more than two dozen states that have passed or proposed bills allowing student-athletes to earn money from their names, images and likenesses, the NCAA removed its longstanding ban on compensation last year.

California enacted a law last fall allowing college athletes in the state to earn money from endorsement deals and hire agents without risking their eligibility. Speaking at the hearing, Emmert warned the passage of more laws at the state level would grant schools an unfair advantage.

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“If implemented, these laws would give some schools an unfair recruiting advantage and open the door to sponsorship arrangements being used as a recruiting inducement," Emmert said. "This would create a huge imbalance among schools and could lead to corruption in the recruiting process. We may need Congress’ support in helping maintain uniform standards in college sports.”

The NCAA established a working group to develop an updated policy on student-athlete compensation. The group’s recommendations are expected by April.

A total of 25 states are considering legislation that would force the issue. California’s law takes effect in 2023.

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), a former Ohio State University wide receiver, became the latest lawmaker to propose a bill on name, image and likeness rights. Gonzalez said the bill would provide a “basic economic opportunity” to college athletes, according to Cleveland.com.

The NCAA has taken an aggressive approach in its push for federal intervention. The organization and two conferences spent at least $750,000 in 2019 on lobbying efforts related to student-athlete compensation, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Critics of the NCAA’s stance argue that major conferences already have a recruiting advantage over their lesser-known peers.

“The power conferences have advantages and they consistently pull the best recruits,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players’ Association. “They will continue to get the recruits. The reality is, you’re not going to change the recruiting by limiting the players’ opportunities.”

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Huma noted that massive media rights deals have already given the major conferences a recruiting advantage.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), who oversaw the hearing, said the NCAA should present its proposed guidelines in April before Congress determines whether a federal framework is necessary.

The NCAA’s approach to student-athlete compensation has drawn bipartisan scrutiny from lawmakers in recent months. Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) established a working group to examine the issue last year. The two senators met with Emmert in December.

“We now have growing bipartisan support in Congress and a number of states to actually do something about it. I hope that athletes’ voices are put first in today’s hearing,” Murphy said in a statement.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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