Editorial: Lawmakers, stay out of college sports

The Detroit News

Michigan has joined the ranks of nearly a dozen states that are seeking to manage the NCAA’s image and likeness rules by introducing bills to protect student athletes seeking to use their faces and reputations for their own financial benefit. Lawmakers shouldn’t be wasting time meddling in the affairs of a voluntary association. 

The NCAA has its own legislative body, which is moving on this issue at its own pace. Rather than having to deal with a patchwork quilt of image and likeness laws, the association ought to be allowed to set its own rules.

House Bills 2517 and 2518 were introduced last November by Reps. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo Township, and Joe Tate, D-Detroit. 

The first bill would make it illegal for colleges or organizations like the NCAA to prohibit students from participating in sports if they receive compensation for the use of their name, face and reputation. The second would protect student athletes’ right to hire an agent. The bills are currently in the House Ways and Means Committee. 

In testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Iden referenced his time as a Division II tennis player for Kalamazoo College. As a tennis instructor, Iden was unable to advertise the fact that he played the sport at the collegiate level.

NCAA President Mark Emmert

“It’s an issue of fairness,” he said in a statement. “I felt my experience was a qualifier to show I know about the sport, and I wasn’t able to broadcast that fact.” 

Tate, who played football at Michigan State University, also testified before the committee, claiming the NCAA’s outdated rules keep college athletes from legitimate business: “Collegiate athletics have become a legitimately profitable business over the past few decades,” Tate stated. “But due to these outdated rules, the athletes themselves are left on the outside looking in.”

Iden and Tate may be right that students should be allowed to capitalize on athletic prowess. But legislation at the state level is the least efficient way to go about it. The rules should not be different in all 50 states. 

And it’s not as if the NCAA is ignoring this issue. The association’s board of governors voted unanimously last October in favor of permitting student athletes to benefit from the use of their image and likeness.

Last month, NCAA President Mark Emmert addressed this issue at the NCAA convention in Anaheim, California, noting that this was going to be a priority this year.

“Yes, in some cases, we need help from Congress and from some others,” Emmert said. “But this is our job and we got to be clear about it. This is ours to improve and make better.”

The association hopes to send recommendations to the board of governors for consideration and a vote next January.

The Michigan Legislature should resist the urge to hasten the inevitable and allow the association specializing in student athletes to practice its trade.