Now that the Georgia Senate runoff elections have concluded and it appears that the Democrats will eventually win control of the Senate, the question now is: what does that mean for college athletics? Senator Booker (D-NJ) introduced and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) co-sponsored a bill that would bring sweeping reforms to college athletics, reaching far beyond name, image, and likeness (NIL.). The proposal called the College Athletes Bill of Rights could call into question the amateur model of the NCAA and provide athletes in revenue-generating sports an opportunity to share in the surplus of athletic departments. This proposal could, as the NY Times article states, provide lifetime scholarships, government oversight of health and safety standards, public reporting of booster contributions, and unrestricted transfers for student-athletes. Regardless of the perception of this proposal or thoughts on the 2020 Presidential Election, there seems to be no doubt that changes are coming to college athletics.
In addition, several weeks ago the United States Supreme Court decided to hear the Alston Case, which at its heart deals with compensation for student-athletes. All this is happening at the same time states are (or will be) signing their own NIL provisions which will become law in those states and are slated to go into effect in the coming months and years. For example, not satisfied with the NCAA NIL proposal, the State of California and the State of Florida have issued their own NIL laws and will go into effect July 1, 2021, and August 1, 2021, respectively.
Not to mention, multiple colleges and universities have eliminated sports as cost-savings measures due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of this seems to be pointing to an eventful 2021 that could be marked by sweeping reforms in college athletics. The pending reforms also mean that athletic departments might be considering eliminating more non-revenue (or Olympic Sports) before any reforms are intended to go into effect. If that were to happen, the Olympic Movement in the United States. would be a shell of what it currently is. The three largest medal-winning sports for Team USA are Swimming, Track & Field, and Gymnastics. Colleges athletics is effectively a feeder system for most of those sports and should that be upended, that will devastate Team USA’s medal count. One key way to prevent this on a wide-scale is to increase the fundraising efforts for those sports and examine restructuring those competitions to make them more television (or streaming) friendly. If the world series of poker and cornhole can continue to find its way on ESPN, our elite student-athletes should be able to do so as well.
Notwithstanding the impact on the Olympic Movement, this is the time when athletic departments must refocus on their mission, communicating that mission, and ensuring that the mission is supported by their donors, faculty, coaches, and student-athletes. Only time will tell what/when changes will actually be implemented but we know changes are coming. With this amount of heads up, planning how to better address the needs of student-athletes should take center stage in athletic departments around the country. Those who are forward-thinking and able to adapt will gain a competitive advantage and those that wait will only fall behind their peers. Lastly, in order to generate more revenue for athletic departments, it makes sense to begin thinking outside the box, which also means looking at E-Sports and their competitions as another opportunity to bring fans together (in the post COVID-19 world, of course). This is one of several ideas that could be explored to ensure the sustainability of athletic departments regardless of what changes are coming.