December 2, 2021

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Power Five conferences spending big money to lobby Congress on NIL

The Power Five conferences are working behind the scenes to influence the ability for college athletes to be compensated for endorsement deals.

Last month, the NCAA — after receiving significant political pressure on the issue — took its biggest step yet toward allowing student-athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL). All the while, the Power Five conferences have been lobbying Congress in an effort to shape the way those deals can take place under the so-called “collegiate model.”

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Power Five conferences spent $350,000 in the first three months of 2020 “as part of a coordinated effort to influence Congress on legislation affecting the ability of college athletes to earn endorsement money.” Those expenditures — “more than they had previously spent in any full year,” per the AP — come on the heels of a combined $750,000 spent on lobbying by the NCAA, ACC and Big 12 in 2019.

Though the conferences are working together, the SEC spent the most on the issue through March, hiring three lobbying firms for a total of $140,000, per the AP. Meanwhile, the other P5 conferences ranged in payments from $20,000 by the Big Ten to $70,000 by the Pac-12 with the ACC and Big 12 in between at $60,000 apiece. 

Two firms were hired by all five conferences collectively while four of the five power conferences hired separate firms on their own behalf. Only the Big Ten “did not hire its own dedicated lobbyist,” according to the AP. 

The SEC logo is shown outside of the Hyatt Regency hotel for the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference’s annual media gathering, Monday, July 10, 2017, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Restricting athletes’ rights to earn

In late 2019, several U.S. states took steps toward passing laws that would give college athletes in those states the ability to pursue endorsement deals. Fearing the lack of uniform rules for schools around the country, the NCAA was forced to act and began working toward a system to allow NIL payments for its athletes. 

The NCAA’s Board of Governors formally expressed support for rule changes in April, but also called for “federal preemption” from Congress to ensure the NCAA can oversee NIL rules on a national scale. Should that ask of Congress come to fruition, it would render those individual state laws essentially useless. The NCAA also is asking Congress to establish a “safe harbor” for the NCAA as a means for “protection” against potential NIL-related lawsuits. 

Additionally, the NCAA’s Board of Governors mandated that any NIL legislation stay within specific “guardrails” that are far more restrictive than many of the laws drafted in individual states. Those “guardrails” include no school and conference involvement in potential deals, avoiding using NIL deals “for recruiting by schools and boosters” and regulating the use of “agents and advisers” in potential deals. 

Now, the Associated Press’ reporting revealed even more restrictions:

A document circulated by the Power Five lobbyists, obtained by AP, lists the conferences’ “core principles” for athlete compensation, and most of those principles include limitations.

They include: a requirement for “one term of academic progress” before athletes can sign endorsement deals; a ban on athlete deals with “advertising categories inconsistent with higher education”; and limits on who can advise athletes on third-party contracts to prevent “unscrupulous actors.”

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told the AP that the league hired lobbyists to make sure NIL rules “can be administered fairly on a national level.”

“It is important for the SEC to have a voice in this national dialogue,” Sankey said. “We look forward to a constructive exchange of ideas about ways we can further enhance our student-athletes’ educational and athletic experiences while ensuring that any future changes can be administered fairly on a national level.”

Shows the true intentions of NCAA leaders

The move toward allowing college athletes to be compensated for their NIL is long overdue and it’s something that the NCAA has been fighting tooth and nail to prevent for decades. Now that the NCAA has its back against the wall due to political pressure, its top administrators are gritting their teeth saying it is time for “modernization” and to give college athletes the rights afforded to any other college student. 

It was already abundantly clear, but the documents reviewed by the AP show in plain sight that NCAA leaders want to do this all on their own antiquated — and unfair — terms. 

Think about it. These conferences are spending tens of thousands of dollars — during a pandemic that has a dramatic economic impact on college athletics, no less — to restrict the ability for athletes to earn from their own free market value. These athletes bring in millions and millions of dollars to these conferences and universities, yet their leaders insist on “guardrails” in order to protect their precious ideal of “amateurism,” which is nothing more than a business model at this point. 

So the next time you hear any college athletics official lauding their efforts to “support student-athletes,” remember the money being spent behind the scenes to do just the opposite.

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