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Volume 26 No. 229
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Working Out NIL Implications Top Priority For NCAA's Emmert In '20

NCAA President Mark Emmert has one major priority in '20 -- guiding the organization through the choppy waters of name, image and likeness. Emmert, during a one-on-one interview on Day 1 of the '19 Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, said NIL-related issues dominate 75% of his time -- nothing else even comes close. When he says NIL is his top priority, that means spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill educating the politicians who might have a say in the NCAA’s future model. “There's no question in my mind that the vast majority of universities understand that we need to move into a period where we're modernizing our rules,” Emmert said. “We've got to be able to modernize our rules consistent with the legal environment that we live in.” With that, Emmert has been lobbying hard for Congress to come up with a national set of NIL regulations so that the rules don’t change state-to-state.

TIMING OF IT ALL: Emmert said of hitting a deadline of early '21 to have recommendations from the NCAA working group on NIL, “It's highly probable, but it's going to be a long road. It's not something that happens overnight. … I’ve certainly never heard anybody say they want college sports run from Washington, DC. There is an interest in providing support, because some of these issues can't be really resolved without congressional action. You can't have 26 or 30 different state laws, so you need something on a federal level that becomes an umbrella that organizes all of that. But nobody's talking about the federal government running college sports.” 

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Emmert spent the majority of his interview discussing the pitfalls and opportunities that come with college athletes having the ability to monetize their own rights. While there is now a more tolerant attitude toward NIL, Emmert said, “A completely unfettered sponsorship model, like some state bills are anticipating, could very quickly slide into an employee-employer relationship. If you have the schools, for example, helping line up a deal with the car dealership for $100,000 and they're working with an agent of a 17-year-old, … how do you describe that as anything other than an employee-employer relationship? Now, where does that leave us? So, one of the great challenges here is how can you, in a current legal environment, create a model that provides benefits of all types without triggering professionalization.”

GETTING POLITICAL: After Emmert’s interview on stage, he met with members of the media about his role in working with Congress on NIL. When asked if he thought the politicians are more friend or foe in this debate, Emmert said, “I wouldn't characterize them as friend or foe in that sense. They're keenly interested in trying to have college sports be successful. They like it. They're in favor of it. They see the good that it does for student athletes. There's a keen interest in trying to help us modernize the rules and create a framework within which this all continues to work in that direction. So, I think there's a lot of good intention and good will there.” But it remains difficult to put any kind of timetable on any NIL movement. Emmert: “Congress is complicated right now. It's a very difficult moment in American politics with an election year coming forward and all the other dynamics of Congress, so they understand it's complicated, but they also know there's a sense of urgency.”