Tuberville Throws Cold Water on NCAA Antitrust Exemption

Former college football coach and current U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) told Sportico Monday that he does not foresee a federal bill passing the next Congress that would include an antitrust exemption for the NCAA.

Tuberville and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) have been working since the summer on crafting narrow legislation that would try to create and regulate a national standard for college athlete NIL rights.

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“We’ve got to take care of all these recruiting possibilities first, and once we get through this we would like to stay out of it,” Tuberville said in a telephone interview. “If you get (Congress) involved, it is not a rule, it is a law. We don’t want to jump in this with all four feet and say this is how it is going to be with every situation.”

Tuberville said he expects his bill with Manchin to be introduced sometime in spring 2023. Last week, according to multiple Hill sources, Tuberville and Manchin held an NCAA-related discussion with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), who cosponsored the College Athlete Bill of Rights. When first introduced in December 2020, that legislation aimed to allow certain football and basketball players to share in the revenues generated by their athletic departments. However, the bill was reintroduced this year without advancing direct compensation for athletes.

Tuberville said that Booker had reached out to him and Manchin in the hopes of making sure that whatever legislation they proposed would be particularly mindful of addressing athlete health and safety concerns.

“Cory comes from a different angle,” said Tubervillle. “He saw the progress we are making and wanted to make sure as we were talking [with stakeholders], we didn’t overlook health care until after the fact.”

The NCAA’s desire to gain an antitrust exemption has intensified in recent years, as college sports’ governing body has been bombarded with a succession of class-action lawsuits, culminating with the Supreme Court’s unanimous 2021 decision in NCAA v. Alston. That ruling, which paved the way for college athletes to receive additional “education-related” benefits, also made explicit that the association does not have a “judicially ordained immunity from the terms of the Sherman Act,” as Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.

Just weeks before a dozen state-based NIL laws went into effect on July 1, 2021, NCAA president Mark Emmett reiterated a previous plea he had made for Congress to grant the association antitrust immunity.

Last week, the NCAA announced that current Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker would succeed Emmert as the association’s president on March 1. Tuberville said Baker is walking into “an impossible job.”

“I knew Mark Emmett very well and spoke with him a lot,” said Tuberville, who coached football at Mississippi, Texas Tech, Auburn and Cincinnati. “The problem the NCAA had is they were so vulnerable with lawsuits and couldn’t afford it. It was money going out the door, again and again. We can help to some point, but we don’t want to go overboard on antitrust and all those things.”

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