National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert received a warm welcome in the Senate on Tuesday morning. But that didn’t spare him withering criticism from Rep. Mark Walker, who called the meeting an “ignominious start” to player compensation discussions.
Emmert told Sens. Mitt Romney and Chris Murphy, members of a bipartisan working group on student-athlete pay, that he is “hopeful” that by next spring, the association will have “some clear indication of where the universities want to go on” player compensation.
But Walker, who has a House bill that would let student-athletes profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL), isn’t buying it. Although Walker doesn’t seem that far apart from his Senate counterparts, the North Carolina Republican said Emmert has rebuffed numerous requests to meet with him and instead chose a more “friendly audience” in the Senate.
“It’s an ignominious start to the Senate working group when their first meeting is with the chief apologist for an exploitative system and not with the student athletes that are being exploited,” Walker said in a statement. “The inequity and injustices in the current NCAA model need to end quickly. That won’t happen by ceding power to the person who has blocked progress for decades.”
The NCAA, the governing body of college sports, has resisted efforts to allow student-athletes to profit from their on-field performance, arguing that compensation would destroy amateurism and college sports as we know it.
But after numerous compliance scandals, a flourishing underground economy that pays athletes with everything from cash to gift cards, and compensation changes at the state level, the NCAA said on Oct. 29 that it will allow college athletes to profit from their names and likenesses.
Walker is skeptical of the NCAA’s “180-degree turn” and believes it is once again stalling for time. But Emmert argues that things are far more complicated than most people realize and schools just need more time.
“It’s not as well understood as it should be, but all the decisions in the NCAA are made through a legislative process of representative government, representing the 1,100 colleges and universities, and so that’s not a speedier process as some people might like,” Emmert told reporters gathered in Romney’s office. “But in fact it does allow for the schools to have a voice in each of these decisions they’re working on right now.”
“I don’t have a lot of confidence that [Emmert] understands the basis of the plight of these families who are coming from a different arena,” Walker said Tuesday afternoon during an Aspen Institute event at which Emmert spoke earlier. “You have to cut through the propaganda machine of the NCAA.”
While Emmert has ignored Walker, an NCAA representative met earlier this year with him and co-sponsor Cedric Richmond, according to Walker. “What do you think you’re trying to accomplish here?” Walker said he was asked during the meeting.
In addition to allowing players to profit from NIL, Romney and Murphy are open to letting players eventually be compensated outright for their performance, a concept Walker is also pushing.
Walker hopes to get this done before he leaves the House in 2021 and contemplates a Senate run in 2022. His bill is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee, but he and Richmond are considering attaching it to a higher education bill.