• Loading stock data...
Saturday, February 24, 2024
Rates for the 2024 Best Venue Awards increase this Sunday at 11:59 p.m. ET

The Debate Over Amateurism Is Holding Up An NIL Law

  • Congress has been debating NIL legislation for three years — but is stuck over the idea of athlete employment status.
  • “If this was just about NIL, you would have a bill,” one Democratic Senate aide told Front Office Sports.
Congress faces a major sticking point in its NIL legislation: the concept of amateurism.
Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

Inside Congress, the debate over the specifics of a federal name, image, and likeness law have turned almost completely away from NIL itself. 

After 10 hearings, three years of debate, and a reported almost-compromise, a major sticking point has emerged: the NCAA’s concept of amateurism.

“If this was just about NIL, you would have a bill,” one Democratic Senate aide told Front Office Sports.

Multiple Senate Republicans have introduced legislation that would codify amateurism, or the belief that college athletes are not university employees. 

Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) proposal would put that language in writing. Sens. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Joe Machin (D-W.Va.) included language that could prohibit schools from sharing revenue with athletes. They hold that athletes don’t want to be employees.

But many Democrats are against including this sort of language in a federal bill, aides said. Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have all introduced legislation either in favor of athlete employment status or collective bargaining, or not addressing it at all. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) signed onto a bill with Booker and Blumenthal.

A Republican aide suggested that Democrats, who appear interested in broadening a bill to include health and safety standards, could negotiate for these additions in exchange for codifying amateurism. The Democratic aide all but scoffed at the proposal.

On both sides of the aisle, it’s understood that codifying amateurism could be seen by Democratic offices as a labor issue, not just a college sports issue. So it’s unlikely that many liberal lawmakers would sign on, no matter how much interest they have in college sports.

There are other issues, too — including whether the NCAA should receive limited antitrust protections to regulate NIL rules, or if a federal governing body should oversee enforcement.

A federal agency overseeing NIL is “not going to fly with most Republicans,” one of the aides said. But an antitrust exemption likely wouldn’t fly with most Democrats, as it would be another method the NCAA could use to stamp out legal attempts at getting athletes employment rights.

There isn’t even bipartisan agreement that Congress should act. The Democratic aide suggested that it’s unclear to them whether there’s enough of a problem with NIL right now for Congress to step in. 

Congress may not have the chance. Over the past three months, multiple sources — including those inside Congress and outside — have provided conflicting predictions about the likelihood of a bill actually passing. 

The number of hearings on the subject, meetings between lawmakers and college sports leaders, and even headlines related to conference realignment, have suggested there could be an appetite to pass a bill.

But multiple sources have said the momentum just isn’t there — lawmakers appear to have more important issues to conquer at this juncture.

Congress has been stymied over the past three weeks without a House speaker, until House Republicans successfully elected Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday.

The Senate Commerce Committee — which has jurisdiction over NIL — intends to hold yet another hearing at some point in the next two months. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), a member of that committee, met with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti on Wednesday.

But as for actually bringing legislation to the floor, Congress will likely now turn to the looming government shutdown and wars in Israel and Ukraine; one of its first acts on Wednesday was to pass a general resolution in support of Israel.

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Sep 24, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; A general view of the Oakland Athletics dugout after the game against the Detroit Tigers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Murky Future: Everything You Need to Know About the A’s Move to Las Vegas

Breaking down one of the most drawn-out, multifaceted sagas in sports.
Michigan defensive lineman Kenneth Grant celebrates a sack on Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. in the second quarter during the College Football Playoff national championship game against Washington at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.

Pay-for-Play Is Here: Federal Judge Says NCAA Cannot Enforce Any NIL Rules

The ruling effectively allows pay-for-play to go forward uninhibited.
Caitlin Clark

Big Ten Women’s Tournament Sells Out for First Time

‘Clarkonomics’ has made it to the postseason.

Despite Nike’s Efforts, MLB Uniform Controversy Isn’t Looking Good

Manufacturer touts product benefits but ignores complaints of see-through fabric.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

How the Negro Leagues Are Staying in the Game


Featured Today

Sabrina-Steph Wasn’t the ‘Battle of the Sexes’—But It Was Part of the Bigger War

The competition could play a factor in increasing the WNBA’s media value.
NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace (23), in a Star Wars rebel alliance X-wing fighter pilot-inspired race suit, motions to the crowd to get louder during the driver introductions for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale on Nov. 5, 2023.
February 17, 2024

Celebrity Owners, International Ambitions, and $7B Media Deals: Welcome to the New NASCAR

NASCAR boldly keeps pace with the increasingly competitive sports and entertainment world.
February 16, 2024

Wilson Introduced an Airless Basketball for $2,500. We Had Questions

The black, 3D-printed ball appeared in last year’s Slam Dunk Contest.
Emily Henegar, a baker and content creator, made a batch of NFL-inspired cookies featuring Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce.
February 11, 2024

The ‘Life-Changing’ Economy of Taylor Swift’s NFL Outfits

Appearing in Swift’s game-day wardrobe has been “life-changing” for small businesses.


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Finance Manager
New York, NY
Senior Technical Artist - Sports Technology
EA Sports
Orlando, FL
Assistant Manager, Affiliate Operations
Portland, OR

Making Sense of What More CFP Expansion Would Mean

Leaders of the CFP discussed the potential for a 14- and even 16-team Playoff.
February 22, 2024

‘Treated Like Children’: College Football Players Offered $600 to Be in Video Game, No Royalties

Players may be receiving lower than the industry standard with the video game’s return.
Nick Saban
February 22, 2024

Coaches Aren’t Happy With College Football—Some Are Getting Out While They Can

NIL and the transfer portal have many college football coaches getting new jobs.

Live Sports Are Now High-Tech Experiences

Oracle is leading the technology revolution happening in stadiums across the world.
EA Sports
February 22, 2024

EA Sports Offers Players $600 To Be In New College Football Game

The deal comes with a free copy of the game but without royalties.
Angel Reese
February 21, 2024

Angel Reese Denied ‘Bayou Barbie’ Trademark

No need to ‘unnecessarily instigate Mattel,’ lawyer says.
February 20, 2024

New Salary Records for Colorado Football Assistant Coaches

The 10 assistants will make a combined $4.65 million this year, a school record.
College Football Playoff
February 20, 2024

After Pac-12 Collapse, College Football Playoff Modifies Its 12-Team Qualifications

The CFP will allow five top-ranked conference champions and seven at-large bids.