What BYU products could varsity athletes approve under NIL law?

While Senate Democrats and Republicans largely agreed on Wednesday that Congress should quickly pass legislation to allow varsity athletes to enjoy their name, image and likeness, a senator from Utah said that there were legitimate concerns about what might happen if this was allowed.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said it could raise questions in universities about which products his student-athletes might endorse.

“For example, my alma mater, Brigham Young University, would have opinions on what products its athletes might endorse and from what source they would come, if they approved products incompatible with the university’s religious mission,” he said he declared. said during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

BYU, based in Provo, Utah, is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Committee chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Is leading negotiations to create a national standard of name, likeness and image for varsity athletes as states review and pass their own laws on the matter.

“There is a broad consensus that Congress should pass a law guaranteeing college athletes the right to enter into agreements with third parties, the same right as all their fellow non-student athletes,” said Senator Roger Wicker, R -Miss. ., said at the hearing.

Lee said the issue of product approval would not be limited to religious schools.

“I could imagine a lot of other schools that are not necessarily religious in nature that might want to voice their concerns or limit the ability of student athletes to endorse certain products,” he said.

Lee asked NCAA President Mark Emmert how universities would balance their interests with individual interests.

Emmert said policies under NCAA review and legislative proposals attempted to identify product categories, including alcohol, tobacco, illegal substances for athletes to consume, and gambling, that the law or schools could prevent college athletes from approving.

“There is, I hope, an opportunity at the national level but also at the institutional level to make these decisions, and the student-athletes could then take this into account when making their decisions on which institutions to attend,” he said. declared.

Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Left, the leading member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, greets NCAA President Mark Emmert as the panel prepares to hold a hearing on student-athlete compensation and federal legislative proposals to allow athletes to participate in college sports to monetize their name, image and likeness, at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Emmert urged Congress at the hearing to pass national name, likeness and image law so that college athletes operate on an equal footing. At least a dozen states will soon be implementing their own laws, but about 35 states will not have policies in place, he said.

Lee also asked how treating athletes like employees affects the structure of a university and if that would impact their tax-exempt status.

Emmert said that converting varsity athletes to varsity employees “fundamentally blows up varsity sport.”

“The notion of college athletics is that they are not employees, they are not hired professionals. They are actually students who voluntarily participate in sports, ”he said.

Colleges would not get involved in sponsorship agreements between athletes and other entities, Emmert said.

“The university would in no way be a party to this negotiation,” he said.

Lee, as he has done in previous hearings on the matter, also questioned Emmert about the NCAA, which he called a “de facto collegiate athletics cartel,” seeking partial or total exemption from the laws. antitrust.

“In your opinion, is the product that you are offering which falls under the category of amateur and collegiate athletics so unique that it warrants the extraordinary step of less liability or no liability under antitrust laws? ? Asked the senator.

Emmert said the NCAA has not argued for a full exemption, but tries to avoid “serial” litigation whether for past or future actions under a name, likeness and the image. He said two lawsuits were filed immediately after the NCAA board of governors, made up of 24 college presidents, called on schools to adopt such policies.

“We try to avoid going to a place where no good deed goes unpunished here. It’s the only thing that’s really under consideration, ”he said.

Lee said the antitrust issue must be resolved in the future.

“It doesn’t differentiate you from anyone looking for an antitrust exemption,” he told Emmert. “The possibility of litigation is something that everyone faces in the market.”

In April, Lee and several other Senate and House Republicans introduced legislation to remove Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption.

As a professional sports league, baseball should understand the benefits of competition, Lee said at the time. Instead, baseball is using its “judiciously fabricated” antitrust immunity to suppress wages and divide markets for decades – conduct that is blatantly illegal, and sometimes criminal, in any other industry, he said.

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