Capitol Hill, by way of Congressman Gus Bilirakis, (Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Innovation, Data and Commerce) believes that Name Image and Likeness (“NIL”) deals are here to stay. On January 18, 2024, Congressman Bilirakis and fellow subcommittee members held a legislative hearing with the focus of establishing NIL protections for college athletes and evaluating a proposed bill – The FAIR College Sports Act.
Congressman Bilirakis acknowledged that while NIL “is great for players…the student transition to NIL enabled a ‘wild west’ environment where pay-for-play is rampant.” He further explained that the current landscape has “set college athletics on an unsustainable path” and that in order to ensure long term success, Congress “must promote safe guardrails and a level playing field.”
The subcommittee members indicated they are concerned by the inconsistencies amongst state NIL laws, as well as among large, and small athletics programs of various colleges and universities. Student-athletes testified that the current system was cumbersome and difficult to understand. They complained that an inconsistent application of NIL rules and guidance creates a situation where the student-athlete can accidently get themselves in trouble, even when trying not to. Not only can student-athletes accidently violate rules, but there are also concerns as to how to properly file taxes and how to evaluate NIL opportunities and companies.
While it is yet to be seen if the Congressman Bilirakis’ proposed FAIR College Sports Act will solve any of the problems identified by stakeholders, the legislative process appears to be in full swing. Of course, all of these tedious efforts may be for not, should student-athletes be deemed employees of their respective institution.