Utah lawmaker trashes paying college athletes: ‘I think it’s messing up their minds’

Senate President Stuart Adams says paying student-athletes for name, image and likeness (NIL) programs shifts the focus away from getting an education.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, speaks during a news conference addressing legislation aimed at teacher retention, at the Utah Captiol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams is not a fan of paying college athletes. On Tuesday afternoon, the Layton Republican was asked about legislation under consideration during the 2024 session to create a statewide policy governing paying student-athletes through name, image and likeness (NIL) programs.

HB 202 sets guidelines around NIL programs and allows universities to give perks to donors who financially support NIL collectives. Adams begrudgingly acknowledged that lawmakers had to do something to help Utah’s colleges and universities attract the best players in the ever-shifting financial landscape of college athletics. However, that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

“I really don’t like it [NIL], but it’s what we have. We’re trying to compete to get the best athletes here,” Adams said.

Despite the need for lawmakers to help level the playing field, Adams says giving players “astronomical” amounts of money is ruining college athletics and athletes.

“I’ve heard some of these college athletes are talking about whether they ought to buy a Rolls-Royce or what other kind of car they ought to buy. Their focus has gotten away from getting an education to totally athletics, and I think it’s messing up their minds,” Adams said. “It’s unsustainable from a budget perspective, and I think it’s wrong for the athletes themselves. I think it’s way too early and refocuses their minds away from focusing on college.”

Just this week, it was reported that University of Georgia quarterback Carson Beck purchased a Lamborghini SUV with a price tag of more than $270,000. It’s unclear whether the car was part of a NIL deal or if he bought it outright.

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said Utah lawmakers can’t put the NIL genie back in the bottle. Still, something must be done to ensure Utah’s colleges and universities aren’t left behind.

“We have to have our athletes and our schools be able to compete on a level playing field. The pendulum has swung in one way, and big money is flowing, especially in power conferences. If [Utah] can be a player, we need to be. We cannot pull the rug out from under them and put them in an uncompetitive situation,” Vickers said.

HB 202 sets guidelines around NIL programs and allows universities to give perks to donors who financially support NIL collectives. Student-athletes must also disclose any NIL deals to the university to ensure it does not conflict with school policies.

Adams defended a provision in the legislation that would exempt any information about those NIL contracts from Utah open records laws. The Utah Transparency Project opposes that aspect of the law.

“When you’re an athlete and you come to Utah and have to disclose everything you do, and you can go to Nevada and not do it, it puts you at a competitive disadvantage to try and attract athletes,” Adams said.

This is not the first time Adams has used his office to wade into the world of sports. In 2021, Adams suggested former Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell was wrong for speaking out against efforts by the Republican-controlled legislature to address the teaching of critical race theory in Utah classrooms.

“When you get very popular sports stars that are pushing back, we’ve got work to do to try and educate them,” Adams said in a video posted to social media. “Let’s go tell him what we’re doing because I don’t think he really understands what happened.”

After he was traded from the Jazz to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2022, Mitchell said in an interview it was “draining” to live in a predominantly white community like Salt Lake City.

“It’s no secret there’s a lot of stuff that I dealt with being in Utah off the floor,” Mitchell said. “If I’m being honest with you, I never really said this, but it was draining. It was just draining on my energy just because you can’t sit in your room and cheer for me and then do all these different things. I’m not saying specifically every fan, but I just feel like it was a lot of things. A state senator saying I need to get educated on my own Black history.”