With NIL reform in limbo, NCAA heading toward busy June

RALPH D. RUSSO
·4 min read
FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2020, file photo, NCAA President Mark Emmert testifies during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on intercollegiate athlete compensation on Capitol Hill in Washington. Just days away from the start of the NCAA's most lucrative and high-profile event, the Division I men's basketball tournament, Emmert spoke to the AP about where things stand with the association's attempts to reform its rules related to name, image and likeness compensation for athletes. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The NCAA's efforts to allow athletes to earn money from personal endorsement and sponsorship deals are stuck in limbo, and June is shaping up to be a potentially busy and important month for college sports.

“My anniversary is June 24. And every year my wife and I take a vacation right around June 24,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday. “And we have canceled that vacation.”

Just days away from the start of the NCAA's most lucrative and high-profile event, the Division I men's basketball tournament, Emmert spoke to the AP about where things stand with the association's attempts to reform its rules related to name, image and likeness compensation for athletes.

Despite the current gridlock, Emmert said he is still hopeful the NCAA will have uniform national NIL rules in place before the start of next football season.

“We certainly want to make sure that we can be ready for implementation of those kinds of rules by the time we get to the fall. There’s a lot of moving parts and it’s a very challenging issue to get in place," Emmert said during the 30-minute interview.

Those moving parts include the NCAA's more than 300 Division I member schools, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Department of Justice and dozens of state legislatures.

The NCAA in January delayed a vote by membership on NIL legislation after receiving a letter from the Department of Justice that warned the proposed rule changes might violate antitrust law. Then last week the DOJ filed an amicus brief supporting the NCAA's opponents in an antitrust case scheduled to go before the Supreme Court later this month.

“That is a relevant data point to help us understand how we move forward with NIL,” said NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy, who took part in the interview with Emmert.

The NCAA is appealing a ruling by a federal judge in the so-called Alston case that stated the association could not cap education-related compensation that schools provide athletes. The ruling did not include NIL compensation.

Remy said the case is about the NCAA's ability to self-govern.

The DOJ's involvement in the Supreme Court case decreases the likelihood it will provide guidance to the NCAA that could clear the way for the association to comfortably move forward with NIL reform before a ruling is made.

“We’re looking forward to trying to get (DOJ) to better understand what our rules are and to learn better what their concerns are, to figure out what the path to move forward should be,” Remy said.

The Supreme Court usually hands down rulings throughout June.

Meanwhile, the NCAA is facing pressure from dozens of states that have bills in the works related to NIL compensation for college athletes. Florida's law is scheduled to go into effect July 1 and Iowa is trying to quickly pass a bill that would do the same.

The NCAA is looking for help from Congress in the form of a federal law that would preempt state laws, prevent schools from competing under a hodgepodge of different regulations and provide the association protection from future antitrust lawsuits.

Four bills have been introduced in Congress since December alone, two from Republicans and two sponsored by Democrats. But lawmakers in Washington have other priorities right now and aren't likely to move on any of those bills until the Supreme Court weighs in.

“I still believe Congress has the responsibility to address the civil rights crisis at the core of college sports,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has introduced an NIL bill, said in a statement to the AP. “But where Congress doesn’t act, I think the courts and the Department of Justice can and should help end generations of exploitation by addressing the ways the NCAA illegally controls compensation for college athletes. So while I personally think federal legislation is necessary to put pressure on the NCAA to change its ways, a wait-and-see approach may also be an effective way to unwind the sports industry’s cabal.”

The DOJ's January letter also triggered a pause on the NCAA's attempts to reform transfer rules by loosening restrictions on athletes in the highest-profile sports. The NCAA wants to permit all athletes to transfer one time as undergraduates and be eligible to play immediately. Currently, NCAA rules require Division I football, basketball, baseball and hockey players to sit out a season after transferring to another DI school.

Emmert said he was hopeful NIL and transfer issues could be separated, allowing the NCAA to proceed with legislation on the latter next month.

“It's a simpler, more straightforward (issue)," Emmert said of transfers rules. “And we believe ... that everything we’re doing is perfectly appropriate with the laws of the United States. That there’s nothing in this that’s inappropriate. And indeed, it’s something that is overdue.”

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/