Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and 11 of the state’s college athletic directors on Friday sequestered themselves inside a room at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center to discuss the future of compensation for college athletes.
In October, the NCAA launched intercollegiate athletics into a new era when its Board of Governors announced the organization will allow its athletes to prosper from the use of their name, likeness and image for the first time in its 100-plus-year history. The move, which is scheduled to take effect in 2021, was spurred by California’s passing of a bill allowing its collegiate athletes to do just that starting in 2023 as well as the initiation of similar legislature in at least 10 other states.
The NCAA hasn’t tipped its hand as to what its rules regarding NIL payments might look like, but one thing is clear: College athletics, and perhaps amateur athletics, as they are currently known will soon cease to exist.
“I think what makes this so difficult is that it cuts to the heart of what amateurism is,” said Debbie Corum, the A.D. at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. She added the NCAA’s rules could have ramifications that spread into Olympic sports, high school sports and beyond.
Romney — a self-professed sports fan — said he has long been supportive of compensating collegiate athletes for their roles in bringing millions of dollars to their schools via TV contracts and sponsorship deals. The Republican released a joint memo with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, in October expressing support for the NCAA’ about-face and encouraging bipartisan action. Romney acknowledged, however, that actually putting that into action will be an extremely complicated process.
“I know one thing, and that is it sounds simple to let each athlete have the right to their name, likeness and image,” he said Friday, “but recognize that there are some real consequences relating to employment law, for instance, and other consequences relating to whether some schools would become super magnets because they have the capacity to provide more name, image and likeness rights value.”
Other concerns raised during the meeting included whether athletes would be considered employees of universities or whether they would be able to hire agents and how and to whom payments would be made. Another area of distress for the athletic directors is whether their schools will be able to continue to support some of the more obscure teams if money generated by football and men’s basketball goes to the players rather than the athletics program.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said amateur sports as people used to know them don’t exist anymore. He said he expects the entire model to have to be blown up and remade.
“I like amateurism, but the old-school amateurism is old school,” he said. “So we have to come up with something, somehow, some way, or someone’s going to do it for us.”
In addition to Holmoe and Corum, the group that gathered at Romney’s request included: Utah A.D. Mark Harlan, Utah deputy A.D. Kyle Brennan, Dixie State A.D. Jason Boothe, Weber State interim A.D. Tim Crompton, Utah State A.D. John Hartwell, Utah Valley deputy A.D. Chad Foote, Salt Lake Community College A.D. Kevin Dustin, Snow College A.D. Robert Nielson and Westminster A.D. Shay Wyatt.
After the hour-long meeting, the group didn’t come up with any solutions, but Romney said he feels he now has a more well-rounded perspective on the issues both athletes and universities will be facing. He said it is possible Congress will have to get involved, especially if the NCAA’s rules run afoul of employment laws or if they don’t go far enough in allowing for fair compensation.
“I think it’s more likely we’ll work hand in hand,” Romney said, “and have an effort to try and make sure what we’re doing in Washington facilitates the kind of changes the NCAA hopes to provide.”