Mitt Romney proposes $50k cap for student-athlete compensation, while a Utah State leader warns of ‘pay-for-play’

(Greg Nash/Pool via AP) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utaho on Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Washington.

Sen. Mitt Romney pushed his idea for how student-athletes could get paid for the use of their name, image and likeness on Tuesday — but college leaders at a Senate hearing didn’t support his plan.

Romney, R-Utah, during a Senate committee hearing Tuesday suggested Congress could increase the ability to compensate all members of a college football team. Furthermore, he suggested those with a very high earning potential, the type of athlete who could make it to the NFL, be capped at $50,000 per year.

After Romney finished, he posed that scenario directly to University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

“I would oppose that type of thing, it becomes a pay-for-play system,” Blank told Romney and the rest of the panel. “I have 860 student-athletes and I run those programs because I want those students to develop a set of skills that may not be developed in the classroom. I want them to learn self-discipline, self-confidence. This is about an educational process. The main benefit these students take away is their educational degree. It’s not about coming here to earn money and to be an employee, so no, I wouldn’t agree with you that I think that’s a good idea.”

Tuesday’s Senate hearing on allowing college athletes to earn money, like other Senate hearings in previous months, veered off course and into other hot-button issues like COVID-19 testing and, as it pertains specifically to Blank, the status of the Big Ten as it appears headed towards a mid-October start to the college football season. The “name, image and likeness” matters were not solved Tuesday, nor does there appear to be any consensus on how to move forward.

Romney introduced one of four witnesses, Utah State athletic director John Hartwell, who, like Blank, is not in favor of radically altering the system currently in place.

“The concept of allowing student-athletes the ability to profit from their name, image or likeness, just as any other student on campus has the ability to, makes total sense,” Hartwell said. “However, this opportunity does not need to become the path to pay for play, which would erode the collegiate model, which is so important to us.”

Hartwell noted that revenues from football and men’s basketball, even at a place like Utah State where the athletics operating budget is just $36 million, help fund other sports across the department. Furthermore, funding non-revenue sports includes opportunities for female student-athletes, which is required for Title IX compliance.

Hartwell said he is concerned that money that now benefits all student-athletes, such as footwear, apparel and corporate sponsorship deals could be reduced if legislation surrounding “name, image and likeness” is passed.

Hartwell used Jordan Love as an example. The former Aggies star quarterback and first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers would have been able to use his name to get paid and, under Hartwell’s thinking, that would have sapped resources from other student-athletes on campus.

He said, “We would have a select few student-athletes who would be able to command those types of revenues, and in all likelihood, as it relates to footwear and apparel company, they will diminish the amount that they were providing to the institution and instead funnel it to that individual who they thought had the greatest opportunity to go forward and be professional and have a greater return on that investment for them."