Tommy Tuberville, a college football coach turned US senator, is spearheading the latest move in Congress to regulate name, image and likeness (NIL).
In an interview this week, the 67-year-old Republican senator from Alabama announced plans to work on a bipartisan NIL bill with fellow senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia. In a letter to college sports stakeholders this week, the two senators are asking for input on the NIL, an unregulated issue that college officials say has created a chaotic landscape in the industry.
A former head coach at four schools, including SEC programs Auburn and Ole Miss, Tuberville describes the NIL state of college sports as a “mess” and a “free-for-all.”
“I’ve talked to all my [coach] friends. They’ve never seen anything like it,” says Tuberville. “When you don’t have a path and a direction, no matter what you’re doing, you’re lost. All are lost now.”
Tuberville (pictured) and Manchin are seeking feedback on the NIL.
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Like Tuberville, Manchin, generally cited as the most conservative Democrat in the US Senate, has deep ties to college football. He played quarterback for his home state Mountaineers until he suffered a career-ending knee injury. He has been a close friend of Alabama coach Nick Saban since childhood. Saban also endorsed the senator in a 2018 campaign ad.
Tuberville and Manchin have spoken with Saban about the NIL, Tuberville says. Tuberville’s staff also met with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff in May, when the two men visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill to push for the legislation.
Saban, as well as many other coaches and high-level administrators, have repeatedly and loudly called on Congress to create a federal NIL solution to literally override a set of state laws that make schools operate by different rules. NIL rules are inconsistent, and enforcement somewhat non-existent, officials say, leading to what they see as a serious problem: promoter involvement.
Big donors and donor-run organizations, called “collectives,” are handing out NIL-disguised payments to athletes that officials believe are incentives to sign contracts, retain players and poach athletes from other teams, a problem SI explored in May. the story
While NIL state laws do not change much, some of them have been changed to give coaches and administrators more freedom to facilitate NIL ventures. Other states, such as Alabama, have completely overturned their state laws, giving universities in those states more freedom as long as they stay within the vague NCAA guidelines released last summer.
“The goal here is to make a level playing field. We want to try to be fair in each state, so that everyone has the same opportunity,” says Tuberville. “There have to be some rules. Right now, everyone is doing something different. It pays a lot of money. But this is not about the money. I’ve always been a student – for athletes to make money. But this is about giving everyone at the university level, at any university, the opportunity to feel like you have a chance to compete.”
In their letter to stakeholders, Tuberville and Manchin write that Congress “must act” to establish NIL ground rules, protect athletes, ensure fairness in the game and preserve “the long-standing tradition of college sports.”
“We are rapidly accelerating down a path away from the traditional values associated with scholastic athletic competition,” the letter says. The senators refer to the NIL as a new “arms race” in college sports that has gone beyond the original intent of last summer’s Supreme Court ruling, when the NCAA lost the Alston case 9-0, a decision that caused more to fall. from the amateurism policies of the organization for decades.
Tuberville plans to talk to his former players, those active on college teams as well as recruits who went through the recruiting cycle during the NIL era. The senator hopes to receive all comments by the end of August and begin writing legislation as the 2022 football season begins. Whether it gains real traction will be another story.
Since 2019, at least eight federal NIL bills have been introduced, including proposals by Democratic Senators Chris Murphy, Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal, as well as proposals by Republican Senators Jerry Moran and Roger Wicker. Despite more than half a dozen congressional hearings on the issue, NIL proposals in both the House and Senate have failed to gain enough support to move from either body to the other. In the past, Republicans and Democrats have disagreed on the scope (broad vs. narrow) and concepts (permissive vs. restrictive) of a NIL bill.
Conservatives have wanted narrower legislation that focuses only on the NIL and includes restrictions on athletes and antitrust protections for the NCAA. Liberals have spearheaded a sweeping bill that includes athlete health care, lifetime scholarships, revenue sharing and collective bargaining, and gives athletes more freedom in NIL ventures.
The two sides came close to a deal last summer when Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the head of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, and Wicker worked on bipartisan legislation that ultimately failed. The two sides could not agree on several provisions, especially long-term health care for the athletes.
Tuberville and Manchin are in the early stages of putting together a framework for their potential legislation, so it’s too early to comment publicly on possible concepts, Tuberville said.
“We are not involved with [NIL] money. We want to introduce some rules: who you can give money to and how. Something like that,” he says. “We don’t know which direction it will take us. We want to come up with something that we can sell to both sides of the aisle.”
The NCAA is hesitant to sanction programs over the NIL because the association is “fearful of lawsuits,” Tuberville says, something SI looked into.
In May, the NCAA enforcement staff released a letter to schools stressing that potential NIL-related violations are ongoing. Shortly thereafter, the staff visited the University of Miami, where investigators interviewed several people, including booster John Ruiz, who has spent more than $7 million on NIL deals mostly with Hurricanes athletes.
The NCAA spent decades trying to keep Congress out of college sports affairs, but NIL state legislation, pushed by California and accelerated by Florida, sent college leaders lobbying on Capitol Hill in 2019. Many believe that this three-year-old struggle will continue. barren
There’s little appetite for it in a Congress juggling budget problems and post-pandemic economic woes, says former lawmaker Tom McMillen himself, who is now president of LEAD1, the organization that represents FBS athletic directors.
However, November’s midterm elections could shift the balance of power in a Democrat-controlled Congress. Most inside college sports believe the Republican-controlled Senate would create an easier path to passing NIL legislation. A narrow bill basically has an easier shot, they say.
“If you have Republican committee heads, it’s different,” McMillen says. “It is more difficult to advance the democratic agenda.”
Tuberville says NIL legislation shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It’s about “supporting student-athletes and maintaining something that’s so important to our country: college athletics and higher education,” he says.
“This may be impossible, but someone has to try,” says the senator. “If I figure something out, I’m going to stand on the Senate floor and scream and shout.”