For many Americans across the country, college sports are not just a pastime enjoyed with friends and family, but rather a part of the culture of who we are and where we are from. Ohio and Missouri are prime examples of places where college sports take on more meaning than just something to watch on TV. Whether it’s a primetime game at the Horseshoe or a matchup against Kansas at Mizzou Arena, the passion for college athletics is palpable.
It is this love of college sports, bolstered by our own experiences as student athletes, that has driven two congressmen from different political parties, parts of the country, and college sports allegiances to address the great injustice that currently exists — the inability of student athletes to capitalize on their own name, image, and likeness or NIL.
Under current NCAA rules, college athletes are restricted from participating in activities that every other student can participate in, ranging from hosting a sport’s camp to producing instructional videos. If a college music student can make a few extra dollars playing a concert outside of school, why should a student swimmer be prohibited from teaching swim lessons at the local YMCA?
Despite making statements of intent to create and vote on new NIL rules, the NCAA has failed to codify any new regulations around NIL. Their timeline for action is quickly coming to a close as Florida and Mississippi state NIL laws are set to take effect this summer, spurred on by the passage of the 2019 California NIL law. A federal solution is needed to ensure that, first and foremost, our student athletes are protected. If a patchwork of state laws is in effect, students will soon be forced to choose between where they want to go to school and their own fundamental rights. It is unfair to ask student athletes to hire an attorney to analyze which state law is most beneficial to them, and in what jurisdiction their NIL would be most valuable.
Having one national law and standard is vital to leveling the playing field across college athletics and making sure student athletes have equal NIL opportunities, no matter what school they choose. Allowing a state-by-state solution would ruin college athletics as we know it, hurt competition, and be detrimental to both students and schools.
To prevent this chaos, we have introduced the bipartisan Student Athlete Level Playing Field Act. Our proposal preserves the college athletics system fans love, while granting student athletes the right to capitalize on their NIL in a way that benefits all college athletes in every sport, regardless of division. As former student athletes ourselves, we understand that the amateur aspect of the college game is worth preserving and our legislation does this. Americans across the country have the ability to fulfill their American Dream by making money from what they’re good at, should they choose to work hard for it. Why shouldn’t that same standard apply to student athletes?
Sports have always been a unifying component of our society. At a time when our nation is so deeply divided, we should celebrate the issues where we can come together and support something that will improve the lives of the American people. NIL and college sports are that issue. With a bipartisan, federal solution we can provide certainty to universities, protect the intercollegiate system that college sports fan love, and most importantly — provide our student athletes with a long overdue economic opportunity.
Gonzalez represents Ohio’s 16th District and played football at Ohio State University. Cleaver represents Missouri’s 5th District and played football at Murray State.