Nick Saban was in Washington D.C. this week. He was part of a group of college football coaches and administrators hoping to persuade legislators that federal legislation is needed for NIL deals.
Senators Tommy Tuberville and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin have expressed interest in sponsoring NIL legislation. Saban might have more success persuading Manchin than he will have with Tuberville. The West Virginia Senator and Saban have been friends for a long time.
Tuberville appears to be sincerely sympathetic, recently calling the current NIL system a disaster.
"I’m for players being able to be compensated for their hard work in athletics as well as academics. We have to come to some kind of agreement where we can help the NCAA make improvements to this runaway NIL situation that we’re in as we speak. Players transferring at any time? Players making deals with the help of agents with schools and then not being compensated after making these deals? We’re looking out for the player as much as for the university. But we’re looking out for education and we’re looking out for the sanctity of college sports."
Protecting the sanctity of college sports is a tall task. Could it be that Tuberville is the best person for the job?
In a best-case scenario, Tuberville and Manchin would co-sponsor a bill. In doubt is whether the federal government is willing to exercise enough control to significantly monitor and enforce new rules for the use of NIL. Tuberville appears to prefer the NCAA being the enforcement entity. Given the NCAA’s history of rules enforcement, few college football fans will believe the organization would succeed.
Impact on all sports, not just college football
NIl issues are bigger and broader than college football. Other sports, beyond football and men’s basketball are affected. One major issue looms as an obstacle in trying to tame NIL. That issue is players as employees.
The passing of federal legislation, followed by the NCAA developing an implementation plan, could take a couple of years, or more. If players become employees during that period, federal legislation on NIL would cease to be the biggest challenge to the stability and sanctity of college football. Players as employees, long fought against by the NCAA, school presidents and administrators would abruptly make college players professionals. Likely to quickly follow would be a player’s union and collective bargaining. How such a sea change would evolve is beyond the known.
Players as employees and team salary caps may be the best solution. However, building a consensus for such a solution will be close to impossible. For example, one of the current ideas to control NIL is a national registry. Walter Jones, Executive Director of the Grove Collective that supports Ole Miss is opposed to a registry that makes NIL deals public.
Whatever the U.S. Senate and the NCAA do or don’t do, it is hard to envision success not including transparency. For what it is worth, it would be a first, because college football has never had transparency.