WASHINGTON — The White House is meeting with congressional offices as it considers a response to a new California law that permits college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.
“There’s interest in the Hill on it, and we have some interest in it,” White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan told McClatchy in an interview. “California has created a lot of interest in the subject, the California law specifically has created some angst in the athletic community.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the state’s Fair Pay to Play Act at the end of September, becoming the first state in the nation to allow college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness which is currently banned by the NCAA. Several other states, including Florida, have introduced similar legislation.
“We had been having discussions even before the California law, but the California law has created some new complications for a lot of people,” Grogan said.
“Exactly a course or direction, we haven’t settled on one yet, but we are having discussions with the Hill,” he said.
The California law would allow players to be paid for signing autographs, having their likenesses used in a video game or appearing in commercials for businesses, among other applications.
The White House has been in touch with staff from Rep. Mark Walker’s office. Walker, a North Carolina Republican, has introduced federal legislation to allow players to make money off their name and image while in school.
President Donald Trump, who owned a professional football team in a rival league to the NFL in the 1980s, has not taken a public position on college athletes’ compensation.
Trump attended No. 1 LSU’s thrilling 46-41 victory at No. 2 Alabama on Saturday, but did not speak to the media. He received thunderous applause when he was introduced during the game. Trump also attended the 2018 national championship game in Atlanta.
State and federal lawmakers have been applying pressure to the NCAA, the governing body for nearly all of college athletics, over letting college athletes receive more compensation as revenues continue to rise. College sports generated $14.1 billion in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Education, up from $4.1 billion in 2004.
The NCAA has loosened rules in recent years, allowing players to be paid a “cost of attendance” stipend as part of their scholarship and deregulating rules around food and travel for family members to championship events. But college players still face restrictions on outside income at a time when coaching salaries, administrative salaries and facilities construction, largely fueled by television rights money, are soaring.
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney ($9.3 million this season) and Alabama’s Nick Saban ($8.7 million) lead the way. Fourteen other football coaches make at least $5 million this season, according to USA Today’s salary database.
The California law does not go into effect until 2023. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a vocal Trump supporter and former college baseball player at Yale, backed the legislation in his state.
You have free articles remaining.
The NCAA’s Board of Governors opened the door for such payments “consistent with the collegiate model” in late October, but punted to each of its divisions to come up with their own specific rules.
Walker has called it a civil rights issue and decried that college athletes are not entitled to the same rights as other Americans when it comes to owning their name, image and likeness.
“Signing on with a university, if you’re a student-athlete, should not be a moratorium on your rights as an individual. This is the time and the moment to be able to push back and defend the rights of these young adults,” said Walker, a former college athlete.
He is not the only lawmaker interested in the issue.
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, issued a stern warning to the NCAA in October, telling the slow-moving organization that Congress was prepared to act. Romney and Sens. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, have been meeting to discuss possible legislation that could go beyond name, image and likeness, Murphy said.
“I do believe we have to take action,” Romney said in October. “I’m convinced that we can adjust and we can address the extraordinary unfairness without in any way sacrificing the amateur nature of college sports or its attractiveness and impact on the American public.”
Not everyone is on board with allowing players to profit. Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said he would introduce legislation to tax college athletes’ scholarships if they choose to “cash in” on the potential new rules, an announcement that was met with online outrage. Burr said the NCAA should fight legislation in California and any potential federal changes.
“I thought we were trying to clean up money in college athletics and the NCAA has decided rather than fight what California did, let’s just roll over and say we’re going to do it everywhere,” said Burr, who played college football at Wake Forest in the 1970s. “That’s not the answer.”
The White House said it has not arrived at a conclusion about Burr’s proposal, either.
Trump has a lengthy personal history with famous college athletes and professional sports that has carried over into his tenure in the Oval Office.
As owner of the New Jersey Generals in the now-defunct United States Football League, Trump had two former Heisman Trophy winners — quarterback Doug Flutie and running back Herschel Walker — on his team. Trump pushed the league to move from its games from the spring to the fall, where it went head-to-head with the NFL and quickly folded.
He took on the NFL as president, pushing the league to ban kneeling as a form of protest during the national anthem. Trump tried to purchase the NFL’s Buffalo Bills before his presidential run.
Trump has hosted numerous sports teams at the White House and awarded Medals of Freedom in 2019 to former Boston Celtics guard Bob Cousy, former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera and NBA executive and former player Jerry West.