Capitol Hill Roundtable Discussion Highlights Differing NIL Perspectives

Photo of Jack D. Hepburn
Jack D. Hepburn
Associate, Corporate Department
March 20, 2024

The current name, image and likeness (“NIL”) framework is a patchwork of disparate state rules, regulations and standards. On March 12, 2024, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) hosted a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill focused on the prospect of Congress passing legislation to codify NIL regulations.

Notable participants included former Alabama football coach Nick Saban, Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, The Collective Association President Russell White, sports attorney Darren Heitner, and two of the largest NIL beneficiaries to date, Haley and Hanna Cavinder. Additionally, politicians from both sides of the political aisle were in attendance.

Senator Cruz, who recently drafted legislation that would codify NIL regulations, has insisted on “the urgent need for Congress to find consensus and pass bipartisan legislation to codify [NIL] rights for student-athletes.”

Nick Saban expressed concerns about the evolving landscape of collegiate athletics, stating that the impact of NIL deals contributed to his recent decision to retire. “All the things I believed in for all these years, 50 years of coaching, no longer exist in college athletics,” Saban said. “It’s whoever wants to pay the most money, raise the most money, buy the most players is going to have the best opportunity to win. And I don’t think that’s the spirit of college athletics, and I don’t think it’s ever been the spirit of what we want college athletics to be.”

Saban’s sentiments echo those of other stakeholders who worry about the changing dynamics of collegiate sports. Greg Byrne warned that even a school with as much athletic success as Alabama may have to cut non-revenue-generating sports, depending on how the debates concerning NIL and student-athletes being considered employees unfold. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) stated that he believes that maintaining the status quo with regard to student-athlete NIL rights will “destroy the student-athlete as we know it.”

Senator Cruz emphasized the importance of standardizing compensation for college athletes’ NIL while granting the NCAA and conferences authority to govern without the threat of constant legal challenges. Despite bipartisan efforts, including proposals from Senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal, progress has been slow.

NCAA President Charlie Baker has encouraged member institutions to take independent action, proposing a new Division I tier where schools would pay student-athletes. In response, the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference have formed a joint advisory group to address these issues.

The Cavinder twins mentioned the lack of resources that many student-athletes have at their disposal to navigate the NIL landscape, including managing endorsement opportunities, investments, etc. To fill in these gaps, boosters and donors of institutions are forming collectives to help facilitate potential NIL opportunities for student-athletes.

In reaching national consensus on NIL standards, lawmakers must strike a delicate balance between protecting the rights of student-athletes and preserving the integrity of collegiate sports. While various stakeholders may disagree on the optimal solution, most of those involved can agree on one thing: the time to act is now.