NIL, employee designation discussed at Augustana college athletics panel

Augustana and the NSIC hosted a listening session Tuesday, bringing in special guests NCAA President Charlie Baker and Sen. John Thune (R-SD).
Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 7:35 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Money in college athletics has drastically changed in only a handful of years. With student-athletes now being able to take advantage of Name, Image and Likeness deals and more money being put into broadcasts rights, college athletics is changing quickly.

While some student-athletes, universities, and other businesses have seem great benefit from those quick changes, others are asking for safety nets to be put in place to make sure that money gets around to every program and campus. Augustana and the Northern Sun Interscholastic Conference hosted a congressional engagement listening session Tuesday, bringing in special guests NCAA President Charlie Baker and Sen. John Thune (R-SD).

“I’ve probably talked to 1,000 student-athletes since I got this job, and I’ve heard lots of stories about NIL. And I’m all in on NIL, I believe in it. I think it’s appropriate, and it’s the right thing to do,” Baker said. “But when you talk to kids and families about the Wild West, the lack of any transparency, the lack of any accountability. The lack of any rules and any framework, what comes with that is some really unfortunate stories.”

Baker and Thune spoke with two panels, one made up of current Division II and Division III student-athletes, and one made up of Division I and Division II administrators. Among the issues discussed were the current unfairness of NIL deals, and what a lack of rules or regulations means for smaller universities and colleges, and student-athletes at those institutions.

“We’ve got public schools, private schools, small, large, rural, urban. All sorts of diversity in D-I, D-II, D-III. It’s a tremendously complicated web of 1,000-plus colleges and universities, and half a million college students. I think a simple analogy to really boil it down, is we’re on a basketball court right now. Regardless of where we’re playing in our conference or what state we’re in, that court is the same length. It’s the same height of the hoop. The football field is always 100 yards,” Minot State President Steven Shirley said. “There’s certain basic rules that we all know in the competition of sports. There’s no reason why NIL shouldn’t be the same.”

“Division II and Division III, we might not have the big name, or the big image, or the big likeness like a Spencer Rattler, or a Power 5 quarterback. A lot of these different athletes that we’ve seen take full advantage of all the different opportunities that have been provided. I think you [Baker} hit it right on the money with just not having access to the knowledge, or accessibility of how can you even take advantage of the opportunities that we advocated so hard for,” Concordia University - St. Paul football player and NSIC Division II SAAC Representative Davaris Cheeks said.”

Those issues over NIL deals are something that Baker said the NCAA has been trying to correct. But because of now many states enacting their own laws on NIL, the country has quickly devolved into a patchwork of different language and rules, often times to try and entice student-athletes to come play sports at one of their in-state institutions.

“Because no one knew really how it was going to work, or what it was going to look like when it got started, people hesitated to chase down this idea that we needed a big framework in place. Now that people have had a chance to see what it looks like, and what it isn’t, which is accountable or transparent. It’s not very student-athlete friendly either, unless you’re at the very top of the student-athlete continuum,” Baker said.

“Every state now is trying to give their schools a competitive advantage over schools in another state. If we continue down that road, you’re going to have a patchwork of these rules, and that just is totally confusing, and I think it creates incentives for bad behavior. So I think you want to have a uniform set of rules” Thune said.

The biggest point to come from the panel of student-athletes was the discussion over designating those individuals as employees of an institution. Among concerns of what that new designation would mean for the relationship between student-athletes, their coaches and administration, was the concern over what that would mean for finances.

“I think that the revenue sharing and employment model could definitely have an impact, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing,” Augustana University volleyball player and SAAC Representative Erika Bute said. “Many of us know that sports like football and men’s basketball are a main generation of revenue. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say that these sports would get paid more than other sports because they generate the revenue.”

“The impact that it will have on Olympic sports, women’s sports. We just celebrated 50 years of Title IX, and all of that progress in my opinion will be defeated instantaneously if we go to an employment model. There’s not a financial model, at least that our institution right now can come up with, that would have any chance of supporting our student-athletes being employees,” Southwestern Minnesota State University Athletics Director Jennifer Flowers said.

Both Thune and Baker indicated that these discussions and talking points will be coming back with them to their respective offices, with the goal of starting to form new rules and legislation. Baker said that many of the student-athletes and administrators that he’s spoken too stress the need for urgency to address these issues.

“We would get a bunch of the issues we talked about today, both on the NCAA side and the federal side, done by the end of the calendar year. That’s my perfect world. We’ll call that ambitious, okay, and aspirational. But what the heck? We should be ambitious and aspirational when it comes to trying to figure out a way to make this work for kids,” Baker said.