With college athletes’ ability to make money from their name, image and likeness becoming an issue for state lawmakers across the country, the Power Five conferences have responded by dramatically ramping up their Congressional lobbying efforts, new federal disclosure forms show.
The quarterly records also show that the NCAA, the NFL, Major League Baseball and the Rose Bowl Operating Co., made lobbying efforts on issues including those related to the $2 trillion coronavirus-related stimulus bill that became law in late March.
One of the NFL’s disclosures specified that its interest was in the measure’s “business/tax related provisions.” MLB’s disclosures were not specific. The NCAA’s initial disclosure stated its interest was in “provisions related to financial support for higher education.”
“The NCAA has signed a number of letters supporting the higher education community and our members more broadly,” association spokesperson Stacey Osburn said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “The letters were initiated by the American Council on Education and had the support of several other higher education associations. In many cases, they sought funds for students and schools through the various federal programs.”
Spokespeople for the NFL and MLB were not immediately available for comment.
The disclosure form by the firm working on the Rose Bowl’s behalf stated it lobbied in the House of Representatives, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers and concerning “Relief for impacts of COVID-19 on stadium and facility operations.” The stadium is scheduled to be the site of events including UCLA football home games and a College Football Playoff semifinal.
Altogether, $535,000 in lobbying expenses were reported for college sports organizations, including the College Football Playoff, during the first three months of the year. By Washington standards, that’s not a huge amount of money for a particular business sector. Apple, Inc., reported spending $2.16 million on lobbying during this period.
But, by comparison within the sports world, the NFL reported spending $340,000 and Major League Baseball $310,000.
The Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences each made new arrangements to retain two Washington-based firms during the first three months of this year and paid the firms $10,000 apiece, for a combined total of $100,000.
In all instances, the disclosure forms filed by the firms stated that the sole specific lobbying issue was: “Issues related to developing a national solution to preserve the unique model of American college athletics, while modernizing the system to increase economic opportunity for all student-athletes on issues surrounding their name, image, and likeness.”
It was the first time the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC had spent money on federal lobbying.
The SEC also retained a third firm and paid it an additional $120,000 to lobby on “legislation regarding welfare of student athletes,” that firm’s filings show.
“It is clear the U.S. Congress is now actively engaged in ongoing discussions about the future of college sports,” SEC spokesperson Herb Vincent said in a statement. “As a 14-member conference representing thousands of student-athletes from universities across 11 different states, it is important for the SEC to have a voice in this national dialogue. We look forward to a constructive exchange of ideas about ways we can further enhance our student-athletes’ educational and athletic experiences while ensuring that any future changes can be administered fairly on a national level.”
The Pac-12, likewise, retained a firm on its own and paid $50,000 for lobbying that covered Congress and the White House, the firm’s filing shows. Pac-12 spokesman Andrew Walker said the conference had no comment. The Big Ten also had no comment.
Late last September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into a law a bill that will make it easier for athletes in that state to make money off their name, image and likeness, beginning Jan. 1, 2023. That led to similar bills being introduced in dozens of other state legislatures. In March, Colorado’s became law, also effective Jan. 1, 2023. And the Florida legislature has sent a bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had announced his support for such a measure; that measure would take effect July 1, 2021.
All of this has prompted NCAA President Mark Emmert to call for Congressional intervention to this state-by-state action. And the NCAA Board of Governors — the association’s top policy-making group — recently formed a group of school presidents to answer the question of what exactly the NCAA wants from a potential federal legislative solution.
The NCAA is also seeking an association-level rules solution. Several committees have been examining the issue and they are supposed to report to higher-level governance groups, beginning later this week.
The NCAA, which maintains its own Washington office, reported spending a total of $130,000 on lobbying during the latest reporting period. That included $60,000 paid to an outside firm. Those amounts are identical to those reported in final quarter of 2019. The NCAA’s overall range of issues included “the collegiate athletic model” and amateurism, as well to health and safety, academic success, protecting the integrity of athletic competitions and issues related to drone usage and stadium security.
At least 11 colleges with Football Bowl Subdivision programs included college sports among the array of issues on which they lobbied, with eight specifically mentioning athlete name, image and likeness.