Tuberville In the News: On3: U.S. Senators Tommy Tuberville, Joe Manchin announce NIL feedback

U.S. Senators Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced Thursday the initial feedback the senators received from stakeholders in college athletics as part of the senators’ effort to draft bipartisan legislation regarding NIL. Athletic directors, administrators, associations, NIL collectives and athlete groups provided feedback to Sens. Tuberville and Manchin, who found five common themes in the responses.

Those themes are: The role of collectives, the prevalence of inducements, the need for contract transparency and fairness, an emphasis on education and the experience of athletes, and protecting the ability for small institutions to participate in athletics with larger institutions.

In addition to the common themes, the senators released “notable responses” from the input they received. They’re organized below by category.

NIL collectives focus in feedback to Sens. Tuberville, Manchin

There are now more than 180 publicly announced NIL collectives across the country. Sens. Tuberville and Manchin previously announced they solicited feedback from more than 30 collectives from across the country after many stakeholders asked for the regulation of collectives.

“Notably, more than 70% of the commenters recommended that any future legislation address the issue of whether and how to regulate, control, or ban collectives,” the senators wrote in a letter sent to collectives.

Feedback from the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA), an association of small colleges, stated, “…it is naive to think these collectives are not acting in concert with coaches or other constituents at the institution…While the law must not be burdensome…NIL deals [must] remain above-board.”

In June, On3’s Jeremy Crabtree explored how recruiters work with NIL collectives, especially as state legislators amended their laws to make them more permissive.

“But if we’re allowed to connect them, which is good, we tell them, ‘What you’re going to do is just call this guy with the collective,'” an SEC recruiting coordinator said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “‘Here’s his number. Call him and you can have those discussions with him.’”

The American Athletic Conference wants to keep boosters out of recruiting.

The American’s response to Sens. Tuberville and Manchin stated, “…collectives should be prohibited from any participation in the process of soliciting an individual’s enrollment at the institution. The intent of NIL legislation was to allow student-athletes to find legitimate opportunities to be compensated for the use of their NIL; it was not to find a way around the rules that would allow boosters to be involved in the recruiting process.”

The Autonomy 5 conferences, commonly known as the Power 5, had a similar stance. The commissioners of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC sent Sens. Tuberville and Manchin a letter in August.

The full letter is available here.

The five commissioners’ joint letter stated, “…it appears boosters are inducing high school and potential transfer student-athletes to attend their favored universities with payments inaccurately labeled as NIL licenses, with no connection to the value of any endorsement or NIL activity.”

The feedback on NIL deals being used as inducements

The NCAA submitted a letter to Sens. Tuberville and Manchin as part of the senators’ solicitation of NIL-related feedback.

The NCAA’s letter stated, “Anecdotal stories of student-athletes who have made a commitment to one school only to be persuaded to rescind their agreement after a promise of NIL payments are becoming increasingly prevalent and alarming.”

Earlier in October, the NCAA posted a position with the job title of “Assistant Director of Enforcement — Name, Image and Likeness.”

NCAA Associate Director of Communications Meghan Durham responded to a story about the job posting with a quote tweet that said, in part, “Enf[orcement] staff are already working on a number of cases in the NIL space.”

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) provided feedback to the senators that stated, “We clearly have some who are utilizing this unregulated area as an inducement in the recruitment of prospects and transfers which was never intended and is inappropriate and not consistent with the traditions and values of intercollegiate athletics.”

Sens. Tuberville and Manchin released one quote from a collective. The 315 Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports Syracuse athletes’ NIL opportunities and local charities.

“While we fully support an athlete’s right to compensation for their NIL and to transfer freely, we feel many collectives are diminishing fair play,” feedback from the 315 Foundation stated. “Without regulation college athletic departments are transforming into [de] facto professional sports franchises. However, unlike professional teams, collegiate athletes are not under contract and can easily transfer. This results in a ‘free agency marketplace’ where schools with the most aggressive collectives and largest bankrolls (‘pay for play’) recruit the best athletes to their programs.”

The National College Players Association (NCPA) is a nonprofit advocacy association led by Executive Director Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player. In regards to the role inducements, the NCPA had a similar message as the NCAA.

“Congress can prevent NIL agreements from being used as inducements to lure high school recruits and college transfers to a particular college,” the NCPA told Sens. Tuberville and Manchin.

Feedback on contractual transparency, fairness

One hot-button issue in the NCAA’s NIL era is the disclosure of contracts. In late 2020 and early 2021, the NCAA considered the implementation of a third-party administrator to act as a central clearinghouse of NIL deals.

Former West Virginia quarterback and athletic director Oliver Luck and former Bloomberg Sports President Bill Squadron, who’s now an assistant professor of sport management at Elon, incorporated the NIL Education and Information Center as a nonprofit corporation in September 2020. The NIL Education and Information Center was a potential candidate to be the NCAA’s third-party administrator.

In July, Luck and Squadron reintroduced their idea.

“You see a lot of anecdotal information and individual headlines here or there about a supposed deal,” Squadron previously told On3. “I think there is really a need for a systematic, empirical, objective way to understand how the market is operating. That’s the goal of this initiative.”

While some athletes have said that access to anonymized data could be beneficial as they negotiate future NIL deals, many attorneys and agents have balked at the idea of a centralized database of NIL activity data.

Right now, third-party technology providers, such as INFLCR and Opendorse, and some institutions release aggregated data from their respective athletes’ NIL deals. However, each provides a window into just a fraction of the NIL landscape and doesn’t include deals that weren’t disclosed.

“While some NIL-related data has been disclosed through third-party service providers, there is no one entity that has a complete picture of the types of deals that have been made or their parameters,” the NCAA’s letter to Sens. Tuberville and Manchin stated.

The Sun Belt Conference added, “The ideal law would require disclosure of NIL agreements…”

Stakeholders emphasize education and experience

The USCAA provided feedback to Sens. Tuberville and Manchin that stated, “The focus of college athletics does still include an academic degree. Therefore, a priority must remain on academics and not purely on athletics as a business.”

For the NCAA’s Division I conferences, especially those in the Power 5, athletics as a business is only growing. In August, the Big Ten announced a seven-year media rights deal that’s valued at more than $1 billion annually.

The North Coast Athletic Conference’s (NCAC) member institutions compete at the NCAA’s Division III level.

“Preserve the student status – this is about college athletics,” the NCAC’s feedback stated. “Students deserve to compete against other students.”

Participation between small, large institutions

The NCAA Division I Transformation Committee, which is chaired by Ohio University Director of Athletics Julie Cromer and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, was formed to evaluate DI membership criteria, among other concepts, such as the infractions process and the transfer environment.

Recently, there has been a push for increased postseason access, including Power 5 commissioners who have suggested the NCAA men’s basketball tournament field could expand from 68 teams.

The ability for smaller institutions to compete with their peers at larger institutions was also on the top of mind for some stakeholders who provided feedback to Sens. Tuberville and Manchin.

“[Other federal proposals have included] mandates that will prove potentially disastrous for many of our athletic departments and programs, which are often already strained…at most of our universities, the only sports that produce net revenue are men’s basketball and football,” the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) stated in its feedback to the senators. “We use these revenues, often supplemented with university funds, to subsidize the additional sports programs our schools sponsor not only to fulfill NCAA required sport sponsorship, but also because outside of tuition and board, we believe intercollegiate sports provide student-athletes with opportunities for development of leadership, job access, teamwork, and other interpersonal skills outside the classroom.

“This makes any additional mandates and assessments much more significant and problematic to the continued survival of athletic departments across our Conferences.”

Division III’s NCAC contrasted its resources to those of Division I institutions.

“…Our students, along with those in Division II and from smaller DIs, as well as the NAIA and junior or Christian college organizations, would benefit from a national plan that supports our students’ economic freedoms fairly,” the NCAC’s feedback stated. “…At the same time, many Division III schools simply do not have the same resources to devote to NIL activities that larger, top Division I schools do.

“This makes us even less able to deal with the fluctuating patchwork of state laws that currently exists…because of this variety in resource levels, a national standard may benefit our students more than most because we’d be operating on an even playing field.”