College sports are intrinsic to the soul of campuses across America. College athletics create a bond as deep as family and a sense of belonging for fans. From football to golf, Pullman to Seattle, the state of Washington is no different.
While realignment talk might dominate the news coverage today, it is what Congress is currently working on regarding name, image and likeness licensing for student athletes that will play the most instrumental role in shaping the future of college athletics. With the current patchwork of state laws, and facing pleas from college sports leaders, Congress has recognized the need to step in and act.
In recent months, there has been a groundswell of bipartisan energy dedicated toward finding common ground and reaching a federal solution on NIL and other issues that need to be addressed in college athletics today. We have seen members from both parties and in both chambers introduce bills or draft legislation on NIL. We have reached rare consensus on the need to pass a bipartisan federal bill, and the urgency to do so is growing by the day.
In Washington, we are fortunate to have two members of Congress who are playing critical roles in the NIL debate. Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, is chair of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. These two committees will be the epicenter and catalyst for hearings, debates and legislation on NIL in the coming months.
That means any legislation governing NIL that passes through Congress will have the fingerprints of The Evergreen State all over it.
With each passing year, we get closer to the point of no return with the state laws aimed at creating competitive and recruiting advantages for institutions in the state. That is why Congress needs to act now. With federal legislation being debated , many of the current and expected future issues can be addressed in a compromise that secures the future of college athletics.
Student-athletes need legislation that will ensure their best interests are being considered. If Congress adopted some type of national policy, that would ensure everyone is playing under the same structure and rules. NIL has evolved since its inception, and today, athletes on the same court or field are subjected to different rules.
For instance, Missouri recently passed a law allowing high school students who commit to a college in the state to capitalize on their name, image, and likeness, while other high school students cannot. This law is specifically designed to incentivize high school students to commit to schools in Missouri so they can begin generating NIL revenue, even while in high school. At the same time, there are some states with no laws at all governing name, image and likeness.
A uniform standard to promote fair play and eliminate much of the confusion student-athletes and schools are currently forced to navigate must be made a priority.
With all of the discussion from members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, it’s my hope that lawmakers will reach consensus that preserves many of the great benefits student-athletes receive while also setting an even playing field for future competitors.
Whether it’s entertainment for fans or opportunities for student-athletes, it is undeniable the positive impact college sports have on so many of us. From fall football Saturdays to men’s and women’s March Madness, swim meets and track meets, to spring days on a baseball diamond, college athletics provide a unifying force in our communities, a rallying point and a source of shared identity.
The pride of sporting our college logo after a big win or gathering with friends or fellow alumni to watch a meet or a game somewhere hundreds of miles from campus is a precious gift in American culture. Now, Congress has the opportunity to make sure those great moments continue for the next generation of fans, alumni, and student-athletes by passing legislation. With two great leaders from Washington at the forefront of the conversation to find a solution, I have no doubt the future of college sports is in good hands.