John T. “Johnny” Cash Jr.: Congress holds the future of college sports in its hands

College Basketball's New Era: Money and Name, Image, Likeness in the NCAA Final Four
If one thing is clear, it is that further reform is both inevitable and necessary.

I am a proud, lifelong fan and alumnus of the University of Florida. Supporting Gator athletics has been part of my life (and the lives of my children and grandchildren) for as long as I can remember. I’m also a steadfast believer in the power that college sports have to unlock opportunities for student-athletes and the communities that support and embrace college athletics.

But, over the last few years, I’ve watched the landscape of college athletics change dramatically. Student-athletes are now able to benefit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL), and we’ve seen countless students from all levels taking advantage of these changes to help save for graduate school, partner with charities, invest, and provide for their families back home, among other things.

But if one thing is clear, it is that further reform is both inevitable and necessary. A lack of oversight or uniform guardrails has resulted in a system that is currently inefficient and damaging. And, this is exactly why Congress must step up to act.

With no federal standard in place, we have a patchwork of state laws creating dozens of vastly different NIL policies. This results in an uneven playing field among schools and athletes (even within the same conference), providing some schools with advantages or disadvantages based on the laws of their state. The status quo creates confusion and unnecessary burdens for student-athletes, coaches, school administrators, and conferences.

But what’s more, the unintended consequences of NIL are only becoming more inflamed. Student-athletes are suffering from inducements and pay-for-play scenarios, transfer portal deals that don’t materialize and leave student-athletes with no recourse, and deals that are signed in perpetuity from dishonest brokers when student-athletes aren’t receiving sufficient representation.

As college sports evolve, it is no surprise to see the NCAA prioritize reforming the system. In fact, the NCAA’s eagerness to address the flaws in the system is encouraging. But ultimately, it is Congress, not the NCAA, that has the power to put the necessary guardrails and procedures in place.

As we have already seen with various state laws that seek to pass policies like forced revenue sharing, when state legislators feel there is something to be gained athletically from their state enacting legislation that goes beyond that of the NCAA, they will do so. The end result is a total lack of uniform governance. The only successful path forward is one that has federal legislation encompassing several necessary provisions like federal preemption of state laws.

Having Congress at the forefront will provide the desperately needed uniform standards and guidelines. This is the only way to guarantee a future that is fair and equitable and continues to preserve opportunities for both male and female athletes in all sports.

The good news is that there is serious momentum in Congress to pass NIL legislation. Lawmakers from both parties know that now is the time to act because if they wait any longer, it might be too late.

Congress is best positioned to ensure that opportunities for further student-athletes are preserved so that the student-athlete model, which has allowed millions of student-athletes spanning generations to receive an education while pursuing their dreams, remains intact for years to come. From football to field hockey, college athletics and the enjoyment, experiences, and opportunities that accompany them are a unique system that we cannot risk unraveling.

Through urgent Congressional action this year, we can continue to see athletes benefit and flourish for generations to come.


John T. “Johnny” Cash Jr. is a lifelong University of Florida fan and alumni who lives in Orlando. He served for six years on the board of the UF Boosters.

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