NCAA Football

The NCAA has rallied around its top priority for 2023: getting help from Congress

The NCAA has rallied around its top priority for 2023: getting help from Congress

SAN ANTONIO — The future of the college model has never been more uncertain.

So the leaders of college sports have decided to be more clear than ever about what they want, the measures they believe are necessary to preserve college sports as we know it. And for them, the solution lies with Congress. Yes, the same Congress whose House of Representatives just needed 15 painstaking votes to elect a Speaker.

No one ever said Congress would be easy to work with. But it may be the only way forward, I think Baylor president Linda Livingston, who chairs the NCAA Board of Governors, the organization’s highest governing body. Livingston spent a lot of time at the NCAA’s annual convention Thursday detailing the need for congressional help as the association faces multiple attacks from outside organizations. Multiple lawsuits targeting the economic structure of college athletics are making their way through the courts in a legal environment that appears more supportive of athletes’ rights than ever before. The National Labor Relations Board is continuing its investigation into the alleged unfair labor practice USCPac-12 and NCAA in an attempt to classify athletes as employees.

Livingston has repeatedly said the NCAA needs Congress to protect the categorization of athletes so they cannot be classified as employees.

“We feel there is a great sense of urgency,” Livingston said. “It kind of ties into some potential state laws that are being considered by state lawmakers there. It has to do with some things that may come out of some federal agencies. So we absolutely believe it’s urgent, it’s important, and it’s something we really need to build on and make progress in this legislative session.”

She described the threat facing the NCAA as “inevitable.”

“Several states are currently considering legislation that would significantly change the relationship between the school and its students,” Livingston said. “Congress is really the only organization that can attest to the unique status of student-athletes. We need to make sure Congress understands what’s at stake and motivate them to act. Second, we need a safe harbor for some degree of antitrust complaints. We do not seek or need a broad antitrust exemption; what we really need is the ability to make common sense rules without the endless threats of litigation.”


The governor is gaining control of the NCAA’s delicate political game

Livingston’s loud and clear message came on the same day that new NCAA president Charlie Baker, a former governor of Massachusetts, was introduced to the NCAA membership. His political background and history of bipartisan success were strong assets in the hiring process.

Obviously, Baker will be spending a lot of time in Washington, D.C., asking for help in the areas Livingston outlined. It will also rely on individual athletic directors and conference officials who have relationships with their elected representatives. They will beg for those elected representatives to step in — even if only in the form of narrow legislation — to preserve the ideals that some believe underpin college sports. They will tug at heartstrings, talk about vacations and friendships on campus. Simply put, they will be asking for help.

“The challenges involved in passing any legislation are always significant,” Baker said. “However, I believe there are serious issues with this train just rolling along without doing anything to deal with the consequences that college sports are currently facing. There are 1,100 universities and colleges in the United States that are heavily involved in collegiate athletics, and I think a lot of them were really worried about their future. Most of these schools have really strong relationships with a lot of people in elected office.

“People who are leaders in many of these organizations, and alumni of many of these organizations, will tell the officials, frankly and directly, why this is going to be such a difficult time if they don’t do some things to create some structure around how it can work in the future.

Livingston’s (and the NCAA’s) argument is that the federal law is necessary to preempt a number of state laws that currently exist regarding the compensation of athletes in the name, likeness and likeness (NIL) space. The problem, she said, is that state lawmakers will do whatever it takes to gain a competitive advantage over schools in neighboring states, which is “unsustainable and destructive to everyone.”

“We need a federal legislative framework that is clear, fair and stable for student-athletes across the country to take advantage of the legal opportunities of the NIL,” Livingston said. “We need to formalize federal laws that supersede state laws. Educating Congress about the issues and motivating action on these critical priorities will be a central focus of the NCAA in 2023. My biggest fear is that people will not understand the seriousness of the threats we face until we live with the consequences. .”

For most of the past 18 months, the NCAA has operated out of fear, ever since the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the NCAA in Alston a case that centered on the NCAA’s ability to limit education-related spending. The scathing dissenting opinion, written by Judge Brett Kavanagh, appeared to welcome future challenges to the economic model of college sports.

Livingston said the idea of ​​turning college athletes into employees is “deeply flawed” and would have a “widespread, ripple effect and potentially catastrophic impact on college sports as a whole.” Asked later if there was a way schools or conferences could put more money directly into athletes’ pockets, or even possibly bargain with them without classifying them as employees, Livingston said she and other executives were working to find an answer.

“We have to try to figure out what kind of economic model there might be in the future that is different from what we’ve done in the past,” she said. “But to develop something that is sustainable and that works will require federal protection in some of these areas that are particularly challenging for us without some protection.”

Others at the NCAA convention were far less confident that Congress would step in to save the day and preserve the idea of ​​the student-athlete. It hasn’t happened yet, but the walls seem to be getting closer to the model that’s currently built — which, in theory, could prompt action.

“Just because something is loved doesn’t make it permanent,” Livingston said. “This is very much about college sports. For all those involved in college sports today, we face challenges that are larger, more complex and more urgent than at any time in generations and perhaps at any time in the history of college sports.

“We are faced with a choice at this point in time. Either we can oversee the modernization of college sports ourselves, or others will modernize and transform it for us.”

(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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