Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville is working to draft congressional legislation which would regulate NIL use for college athletes at the federal level, his office announced Wednesday.
Tuberville and fellow senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, have sent a letter to college athletics directors, administrators, student-athlete groups and more seeking feedback to “guide discussions on a legislative path forward.”
In an interview with the Opelika-Auburn News on Wednesday afternoon Tuberville said he supports athletes making money but that he is concerned with there being a level playing field in college sports and with how teams in different states are operating under different state-level laws.
“College athletics needs help,” Tuberville said. “They need guidance, they need rules, they need regulations. They need somebody to step up and try to pull all 50 states together … to where everybody kind of understands what everybody else is doing.”
In the letter, the senators said that a lack of clear, enforceable rules creates an environment that could allow athletes to be exploited.
The NCAA last summer, under pressure by lawmakers, enacted new rules which freed athletes to start using their name, image and likeness — often shortened to NIL — in business ventures. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in NCAA v. Alston that the NCAA’s rules restricting athletes from using their name, image and likeness like any other college student would violated antitrust laws.
But now, the senators say, there is an “arms race” in the college sports world which goes against the original intent to allow athletes to be equitably compensated for services provided.
The two senators hope to draft bipartisan legislation which lays down uniform rules that apply to all schools nation-wide.
“We’re not in this to stop people from making money,” Tuberville said. “We’re in this to put guidelines to where people can have an opportunity to compete and maybe it will make them even more money at the end of the day. But right now we have coaches from one state that’s got a set of rules, and coaches from other states that have sets of rules, and the NCAA is not a strong institution right now because they don’t want to get involved in the Supreme Court decision last year.”
Tuberville coached football for 40 years before being elected to the U.S. senate in November 2020. Manchin played football at West Virginia and has represented West Virginia in the U.S. senate since 2010.
New “collectives” have emerged across the country intending to pay players simply for joining said collective, while detractors fear those groups are using the opening as a guise to pay players to play for their favorite sports team. Detractors say that an environment allowing pay-for-play would create competitive imbalance and effectively turn college sports into professional sports.
Tuberville said the collectives weren’t the point of his concern but did say that a level playing field was. He said he eventually wanted to “talk about the time limits of when you can actually go out and start offering scholarships and talking about the NIL and all those things.” Right now, he said it’s a free-for-all with no guidelines.
Supporters at one of Tuberville’s former coaching stops, Texas Tech, announced in July that they had pooled enough money from donors including oil-rich executives to pay 100 Texas Tech football players $25,000 on a one-year contract.
A group of Auburn supporters calling themselves On To Victory sent a release to media later in July announcing their intent to raise money with 90-percent of the funds going directly to Auburn athletes.
“The Supreme Court says you cannot keep an athlete in college from making money. That’s done. So we just want to put some parameters on it so it’s not just a 24-hours-a-day, 365-day free-for-all, that’s going to end up having five or 10 football programs in the country that are going to be able to be able to compete for a national championship and everybody else is going to be on the backburner,” Tuberville said. “You’re not going to be able to make it equal for everybody — but most of these coaches have called me saying, ‘We need some rules of when and what and where.’”
Meanwhile, Tuberville said he laments Congress getting involved but he said the NCAA is toothless on the issue after the Supreme Court ruling.
“I’ll be one of the most popular guys up here now that football season is getting ready to start, because everybody wants to know what I think about their team,” Tuberville said. “And I’m supposed to be an expert on it and I’m not out there anymore, I’m up here trying to solve other problems. But it’s fun. I’m looking forward to the season. It takes a little pressure off up here. Everybody gets to be a little bit more cordial — because it’s a bitter fight up here in D.C. right now. There’s not a lot of bipartisanship. I think Joe can bring a lot of Democrats to the table when we start talking about this, and hopefully I can bring some Republicans, and again if we do do anything, it’s going to take 60 votes to get passed so we’re going to need both sides.”
Read the full letter the two senators sent to stakeholders in college sports including SEC commissioner Greg Sankey:
Tuberville/Machin letter to college sports stakeholders
More than a year has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court decided National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston (Alston) and the NCAA revised its guidelines to allow student-athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). It is difficult to overstate the changes to college sports that we have witnessed.
Today, student-athletes, college and university administrators, athletic directors, and athletic conferences face uncertainty in a rapidly evolving NIL landscape. The arms race of NIL implementation has already far exceeded the original post-Alston intent of ensuring that players are equitably compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness. A lack of clear, enforceable rules is creating an environment that potentially allows for the exploitation of student-athletes by unregulated entities, prioritizes short-term financial gain over careful investment in one’s career and the lifeline value of education, and diminishes the role of coaches, mentors, and athletic staff while empowering wealthy boosters. In short, we are rapidly accelerating down a path that leads away from the traditional values associated with scholastic athletic competition.
The lack of meaningful leadership and a lack of clarity in this area resulting from Alston means that the U.S. Congress must act to set clear ground rules for student-athletes and institutions alike. Like you, we have the common goals of protecting student-athletes, ensuring fair competition and compensation, and preserving the time-honored traditions of college sports.
Our staffs are actively drafting legislative text to establish an Alston-compliant NIL regulatory structure that promotes the principles stated above, and we request the input and perspective of informed stakeholders like you. Please submit your organization’s comments, priorities, or legislative proposals in writing to … and …. by August 31, 2022.