It may not have dominated every headline like COVID-19, but the NCAA’s step towards allowing name, image and likeness rights for college athletes in April was one of the offseason’s newsiest items. But even a cursory glance at the working group’s proposal, though, showed the NCAA was doing little more than kicking the proverbial can down the road.
The proposal, while indeed a move in the right direction, was riddled with guardrails, restrictions and the type of general red tape you’d expect from a bureaucracy with control over its labor force. Moreover, the NCAA sought help from Congress to essentially protect it against future NIL lawsuits. All of this, of course, occurring during a global pandemic and economic crisis.
All of those factors are reasons why the NIL proposal may face progress at a snail’s pace. However, the most powerful voices in college athletics have given Congress more than a little nudge that they’d like NIL-related legislation to be passed sooner rather than later and “not wait for the NCAA Process to conclude before moving forward with a national legislative plan.” Commissioners from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC sent the following letter to congressional leaders Friday afternoon, outlining their desire for federal legislation on what they call a “timely issue.”
All in all, the letter doesn’t deviate from too many of the talking points within the working group’s proposal. The Power Five commissioners still see athletes as students first with high praise for the collegiate model. They want to prohibit a play-for-play model and preserve the recruiting process by keeping it free of boosters; whether these goals are actually achievable is another story.
The key factor is that the Power Five decision-makers are acting separately from the NCAA, even if the beliefs generally fall in line with the association’s. An ever-growing theory is that one day the power conferences may break away from the NCAA, something that could be sparked by any number of factors. While the letter isn’t a direct indicator of that happening, it does show the power conferences feel their voice is every bit as important on this matter as the NCAA’s, if not more. A key phrase in the letter states, “our impression is that members of Congress are most interested in hearing the views of the universities in their home states, as well as those of the conferences to which those institutions belong.”
NIL rules are expected to be written by Oct. 31, with a vote occurring no later than Jan. 31, 2021. If the power conferences truly have as much pull as they like to think, those rules — despite a bevy of other national issues on Washington’s plate during an election year — will come to fruition in their scheduled timeline, if not sooner.