Today’s guest columnist is Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis (R-Fla.).
Like many Americans, sports hold a special place in my heart—particularly, college sports. As a native Floridian and proud University of Florida alumnus, watching the Gators always gives me an indescribable feeling of pride and school spirit. Many fans know this feeling all too well, as universities across the country have enjoyed varying degrees of athletic achievement over the past 163 years since the first intercollegiate contest was held.
A lot has changed since that first contest—for instance, the Ivy League no longer dominates football, and basketball courts now include a 3-point line. More significantly, the organization of women’s intercollegiate athletics in the 1940s paved the way for women to compete in the sports they love and enjoy today. Change can be good and oftentimes highly necessary to maintain the fine balance between the evolution of the game and the rights of the players who participate in it.
We are, yet again, caught in a period of change that will likely prove to be a defining moment for collegiate athletics. Our current period of change was propelled forward in 2019 when the state of California enacted the first state law permitting student athletes to receive compensation for their name, image and likeness. In the wake of California’s law, dozens of other states responded and passed their own respective NIL laws to ensure their state’s universities could remain competitive when recruiting student athletes.
While states began ratifying NIL laws for student athletes, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in NCAA v. Alston that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules limiting education-related compensation or benefits violated section 1 of the Sherman Act. Separately, in advance of the state laws going into effect and in response to the rapidly changing regulatory environment, the NCAA adopted an interim policy on July 1, 2021, giving college athletes across the country the opportunity to receive compensation for their NIL.
Since then, I have borne witness to the enormous economic opportunity NIL has provided all student athletes. For instance, in Florida, the Gators’ entire offensive line signed a deal with Sonny’s BBQ. Florida gymnast Leah Clapper created the first-ever gymnastics board game. Miami basketball guards Haley and Hanna Cavinder rank among the most valuable NCAA athletes on a popular endorsement marketplace. To date, college athletes have earned an estimated $917 million in the first year of NIL deals, per Yahoo Finance, and current projections show the NIL market will produce $1.14 billion in compensation for athletes over its second year.
All college athletes should be able to capitalize off their NIL, especially those who are not offered scholarships or do not participate in revenue-generating sports. Seeing more than 450,000 athletes across the country benefiting from their NIL demonstrates how impactful this new right has become for and showcases the need for the country to get this regulatory framework right.
After having served as the Republican leader this past Congress for the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, which oversees the integrity of sports, I plan to introduce legislation that will establish a national preemptive standard under which all student athletes will have the same opportunity to enter into agreements with companies to receive compensation for their NIL.
The patchwork of state laws that have emerged in the absence of a federal law has made the NIL landscape difficult to navigate. Student athletes have raised concerns about navigating such a confusing and ambiguous environment, especially athletes that call one state their home and another state their home field. Educational institutions and athletic directors have shared their fears about remaining competitive for recruiting talent with states that have less restrictive or no NIL laws, which allows powerful booster-led collectives to take advantage of the landscape by dangling inducements in front of high schoolers, even though they may not have the best interest of the athlete in mind. My legislation’s preemptive standard will require every state to follow one law which ensures student athletes understand their rights, and will also establish protections at the federal level to protect student athletes from bad actors or deceptive boosters.
While larger Division I schools face their own challenges, these pale in comparison to the consequences that will plague smaller schools, including historically black colleges and universities, which often have fewer resources and are not able to endure the costs of supporting athletes, both in terms of insulating the athletes from extraneous costs as well as assisting them in earning revenue. It is clear the growing patchwork of state laws has produced and will continue to create an uncontrollable frenzied environment for all schools across the country. This is unacceptable, and I am hopeful that my congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle will work with me to create a true level playing field for all students and educational institutions across the nation.
Gus Bilirakis was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 after serving eight years in the Florida Legislature. He is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, a ranking member of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee and a member of the Health Subcommittee. He served as vice-chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee for 12 years, during which time he successfully championed several initiatives to improve care and benefits for veterans.