College athletes in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, New Mexico, and Mississippi will be allowed to profit from the commercial use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) starting July 1, 2021. In 2019, California became the first state to enact a law expanding the rights of college athletes when the state enacted the "Fair Pay to Play Act." Since then, 13 states have enacted college athletes' rights laws and several others have similar bills before their state legislature.
State NIL Legislation Has Left the NCAA in the DUST
State action on the name, image, and likeness issue has left the NCAA struggling to play catch up. Soon after California enacted its "Fair Pay to Play Act", the NCAA created a working group to address NIL and come up with new rules to allow college athletes to "benefit" from their NIL. The NCAA was expected to vote on new NIL rules at their conference in January. However, the NCAA delayed the vote after receiving a letter from the Department of Justice warning of potential antitrust violations.
The NCAA still has not revealed any new NIL rules. Instead the NCAA wants Congress to Act and pass NIL legislation ahead of the looming July 1, 2021 effective date. Accordingly, NCAA President Mark Emmert is expected to meet with lawmakers to address NIL concerns.
The NCAA is Hopeful Considering the NIL Bills That Have Been Introduced to Congress
Several name, image, and likeness bills have been introduced in Congress. One of those bills was introduced by the NCAA. Last summer, the NCAA introduced the "The Intercollegiate Amateur Sports Act of 2020." The bill was extremely paternalistic as it focused on preserving amateurism and carving out an antitrust law exemption for the NCAA. In addition to this bill, the Power 5 conferences introduced the "Student-Athlete Equity Act of 2020." Several other bills have been introduced to Congress including the bipartisan "Student-Athlete Level the Playing Field Act," which was recently re-introduced.
Given that college athletes' rights bills are already on the Congress floor and the United States Senate has held committee hearings on the issue, the NCAA is hopeful that they can convince Congress to act on NIL act ahead of July 1, 2021. The NCAA hopes to get a federal system in place that will preempt the state laws and avoid college athletes in different states having different rights. However, there is no guarantee that Congress will act just because the NCAA wants and arguably needs Congress to. The NCAA has had ample opportunity to get ahead of this issue and chose not to. As it stands right now, the NCAA is going to be faced with the consequences of its inaction on July 1, 2021.