More than two dozen college athletic conferences are banding together to call for federal name, image and likeness legislation and a uniform standard across college sports.

The new Coalition for the Future of College Athletics, made up of 28 conferences, including the Power Five conferences, launched its effort Tuesday. Conference commissioners, athletic directors and coaches have consistently urged Congress to regulate NIL.

“In many ways, NIL has been a net positive for college athletes, but it has also created a series of existential threats that put the long-term viability of intercollegiate athletics at risk,” according to the coalition.

Athletics administrators have identified “pay-for-play” schemes and the possibility that college athletes could be classified as university employees as among the most pressing issues Congress must address.

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NIL is currently regulated by scant NCAA rules and a jumble of state laws across the country, some specifically designed to give schools a competitive advantage in recruiting top athletes. 

While the coalition says momentum is building for a federal solution, various bills in Congress have gone nowhere.

What would a federal NIL law include?

Specifically, the coalition wants federal legislation that:

  • Eliminates the patchwork of state laws that has resulted in efforts to provide universities with an upper hand in recruiting while eliminating the ability for multi-state organizations like conferences and national organizations to implement and enforce their own rules.
  • Creates an even playing field for college athletes that makes it easy for them to understand and navigate NIL rules and to know that their competitors in other states are governed by the same regulations.
  • Prevents the use of NIL in the recruiting process, a practice that essentially produces a “pay-to-play” environment that encourages the involvement of third-party individuals and organizations in the recruiting process.
  • Establishes nationwide and uniform oversight and enforcement of NIL rules and regulations to ensure that bad actors cannot take advantage of college athletes and their families.
  • Clearly establishes that college athletes are not employees of the universities at which they are enrolled.
  • Recognizes the existing requirements of Title IX and protects the great strides made in the last half-century to enhance, promote and protect women’s sports.

NIL threats to college sports

Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that one of the biggest challenges facing universities and athletic departments is the ability to identify true NIL deals from “pay-to-play” schemes.

Collectives induce athletes to attend specific schools and transfer from one school to another without a real NIL deal, he said.

“This has resulted in a ‘pay-for-play’ system, primarily driven by boosters and executed under the guise of NIL,” Petitti said, adding that in some cases the collective has failed to deliver. “As collectives become more influential, we are concerned that operational control of college athletics is shifting away from institutions to collectives.”

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Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the Senate committee congressional intervention is most needed to resolve, “once and for all,” the status of college athletes as students rather than employees. 

Swarbrick said Notre Dame treats students who participate in sports as students, not employees, and those athletes view themselves the same way.

“But the risk that an administrative agency, legislative body, or court will rule otherwise has become so significant that we believe federal legislation is necessary to protect the traditional model of college athletics and the student status of our student-athletes that is at the core of that model,” he said.

Is federal NIL legislation needed?

Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, told the Senate committee that Congress should treat NIL as a low-priority issue in college sports reform. He said federal legislation is not necessary to preserve college sports and that state laws already ensure athletes can profit from NIL.

“The last two years of college athletes’ NIL freedom exposes as false claims that the NCAA, conferences and colleges would be unable to withstand competitive inequities or navigate around a patchwork of state name, image and likeness laws,” said Huma, a former UCLA football player who Sports Illustrated recognized as one of the 20 most influential Black figures in college football.

“It is clear that the NCAA and its colleges are capable of complying with an array of different laws — just as other businesses involved in interstate commerce must do.”

The National College Players Association served as a co-sponsor of the Fair Pay to Play Act in California and worked as the main advocate for NIL laws in a dozen other states. 

Huma told the committee that any bipartisan legislation that can actually move through Congress cannot have any “poison pills” that would kill it. “Such a bill shouldn’t attempt to require or prohibit athlete revenue sharing, require or prohibit college athlete employment status, or attempt to give NCAA sports an antitrust exemption,” he said.

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Conferences in the Coalition for the Future of College Athletics

According to the coalition, college sports has been a pathway to an education and a better life for generations.

“But in the ever-shifting landscape of college athletics, many of those opportunities could be threatened for the next generation of student-athletes if the challenges of today are not met with solutions,” the coalition said.

Members of the coalition are: America East Conference, American Athletic Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Atlantic Sun Conference, Atlantic 10 Conference, Big East Conference, Big Sky Conference, Big South Conference, Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Big West Conference, Conference USA, Horizon League, Mid-American Conference, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Missouri Valley Conference, Missouri Valley Football Conference, Mountain West Conference, Ohio Valley Conference, Pac-12 Conference, Pioneer Football League, Southeastern Conference, Southwestern Athletic Conference, Southern Conference, Summit League, Sun Belt Conference, West Coast Conference and the Western Athletic Conference.