The NCAA and its allies spent at least $750,000 last year lobbying federal lawmakers in the interest of shaping any reforms involving student-athlete compensation. That's a $300,000 jump from last year's head-turning investment in lobbying by the organization.
As reported by The Associated Press, the NCAA last fall indicated it would allow athletes to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness” and is crafting rules to put in place for its 1,100 member schools. But the organization has turned to Congress to play a role as more states follow the lead of California, where a law set to take effect in 2023 clears the way for athletes to earn endorsement money.
While the NCAA intensifies its lobbying influence, organizations representing athletes have no paid lobbyists, leading to concern among some reform advocates that the deep-pocketed NCAA is shaping the debate. The NCAA’s pressure campaign comes as the Senate prepares for a committee hearing today on player compensation.
"The NCAA is going to fight for the status quo," Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, told AP sports writer Ben Nuckols.
Rep. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican who introduced a bill last spring that would guarantee players the right to earn money from their name, image and likeness, told the AP “there’s no question” the NCAA’s lobbying has been effective.
“The NCAA is already at a position of power,” Walker said. “Otherwise you would have seen progress. ... There’s been little to nothing done in this arena, and had the student-athlete had proper representation on the federal level, we’d be much further down this path than we are.”
The NCAA spent $450,000 last year on lobbying, according to disclosure forms reviewed by the AP, the most the organization has spent on lobbying in any year since 2014. Of that total, $240,000 went to an outside firm and $210,000 went to its in-house lobbyists. The NCAA also received lobbying help from two Power Five conferences — the Atlantic Coast and the Big 12 — bringing last year's total close to $750,000.
“The NCAA is a well-heeled organization and college athletes, not by accident, don't have the kind of organizational power or influence that the NCAA does,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who supports giving players more earning power, told the AP. “You have to be more assiduous in soliciting the opinion of athletes than you do the NCAA.”
According to Huma, 28 states are considering action to grant additional rights to college athletes. If Congress does nothing, athlete-friendly laws like the one in California will take effect around the country.
Former Democratic congressman Tom McMillen, an 11-year NBA veteran and current president and CEO of the LEAD1 Association, a trade group for Division I athletic directors, shrugged off the influence of lobbying. “You can have all the lobbyists in the world, but it doesn’t really make a difference," he said. “This is a complicated process, getting something done through Congress in any kind of timely fashion."