A top Utah government leader expressed this week how much he dislikes college athletes getting paid for the use of their name, image and likeness, saying NIL is “messing up their mind.”

State Senate President Stuart Adams said during a media availability Tuesday that he’s not a fan of NIL. “And that’s probably an understatement. I really don’t like it.”

The issue arose during an exchange between reporters and the Layton Republican over a bill aiming to regulate NIL in Utah, including a provision to exempt athletes’ NIL agreements from the state’s public records law.

“I’ve heard some of these athletes are talking about whether they ought to buy a Rolls Royce or what they ought to buy. Their focus has gone away from going to school, from getting an education to totally athletics,” Adams said.

“And I think it’s messing up their mind, and I feel strongly about it. I don’t like it. It’s a problem, quite frankly.”

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The Senate president said he’s talked to professional athletes who believe NIL is “messing up their focus and their mind” and players shouldn’t get paid until “they’ve proven themselves and actually gone through a collegiate program.”

Asked why college athletes are allowed to get paid if it’s problematic and wrong, Adams said, “Oh man, you have walked into something that I am passionate about.

“I wish I could control the federal government. I wish I could control the national media. But we can’t. So we have to compete within what we’re given.”

Proposed Utah NIL law

Adams favors HB202, a bill that would require college athletes to submit any NIL deal over $600 to their university for approval. The school then must provide the athlete written acknowledgment regarding whether the contract conflicts with university policies or state law.

The measure also says NIL contracts and any related correspondence would not be subject to Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA.

Media outlets in the state oppose exempting NIL agreements from public records laws, contending there is compelling interest in understanding how much money is flowing to college athletes, who is paying them and how universities are monitoring compliance with NCAA eligibility rules.

The Deseret News is currently in litigation with the University of Utah and Utah State, Weber State, Utah Valley and Southern Utah universities over whether NIL contracts are public records. 

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Adams said if schools have to “disclose those salaries, even though I would love to, and I think it might be good policy,” it would put Utah at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting top athletes.

Asked what he thinks about college athletes becoming university employees, Adams didn’t directly answer the question but said the University of Utah and others are working through that issue.

“I’m not sure what is the best process coming out of it. But I know the current process of the NIL, as you’re giving these athletes astronomical monies, it’s unsustainable from a state perspective, from a budget perspective, that I think is wrong for the athletes themselves,” he said.

“I think it’s way too early and refocuses their mind away from what they ought to be focusing on at college and that’s getting an education along with their athletic activity.”

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Dartmouth basketball players could unionize

On Monday, a National Labor Relations Board regional administrator ruled that Dartmouth men’s basketball players should be classified as university employees and can hold an election to form a union.

Dartmouth administrators are appealing the decision.

All 15 players signed a petition in September asking to join Local 560 of the Service Employees International Union, which already represents some other employees at the Ivy League school.

Unionizing would allow the players to negotiate not only over salary but working conditions, including practice hours and travel, ESPN reported.

“Because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, and the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, I find that the petitioned-for basketball players are employees within the meaning of the (National Labor Relations) Act,” NLRB regional director Laura Sacks wrote.

The ruling could be a potential first step toward employee status for college athletes. A lawsuit in Pennsylvania is also pending on the issue.

The NCAA, college athletic conferences, school athletic directors and coaches have steadfastly opposed players being deemed university employees. Last year, 28 conferences including the Power Five called for federal NIL legislation, including clearly establishing that college athletes are not employees.

The original Utah NIL bill made clear that college athletes are not employees of their schools. It was removed in the current version.

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