DES MOINES, Iowa — The effort to allow Iowa college athletes to be compensated for the usage of their name, likeness and image never made it to the Senate floor for a debate during the 2021 legislative session, but the Senate’s top Republican says he is prepared to “lead the charge” if the NCAA or Congress do not take action.
On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the National Collegiate Athletic Association cannot limit education-related benefits for athletics. While the case was narrow, pay-for-play advocates hope it will lead to further victories for college athletes.
Writing for himself, Justice Brett Kavanaugh signaled where Monday’s decision may lead. He said there are “serious questions” about whether the NCAA’s other restrictions on compensating athletes can stand. Kavanaugh wrote that “traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA’s decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated.”
“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate. … The NCAA is not above the law,” wrote Kavanaugh, who as a college student played on Yale’s junior varsity basketball team.
Iowa’s Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, is a former Division I college football player, a walk-on who became a starting wide receiver for the Iowa State Cyclones nearly two decades ago.
“The amount of money in college sports today is so much more than it was even when I was playing 15 to 20 years ago,” he said. “…I think if you ask almost anyone if there’s inequities between a coach like Nick Saban, making $10 million a year and players making zero, most people would say ‘yes, that’s a problem.’ The question is how do you fix it.”
Whitver believes it would be best to have universal rules and laws nationwide, which is a reason why he has been hesitant to help get Iowa’s NIL bill across the finish line.
“When you have different states passing different laws, it creates kind of a problem for the NCAA to govern if a recruit who goes to Florida has different laws than a recruit who goes to Texas,” he said.
Governors in 19 states have already signed NIL bills into law, with six state laws going into effect as early as July 1. Four other states have passed bills through both chambers, awaiting for their governor’s signature.
With those fast approaching enactment dates, Whitver believes it will cause the NCAA to change its rules within the coming weeks or months. If that is not the case, he said he plans to lead the charge in the Iowa Senate with new NIL bill in the next legislative session.
“I think it’s more ripe now going into next year than it was last year at this time…now I believe it’s a lot closer to that time where we should be acting,” he said.
Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, has been on the forefront of the NIL legislative effort, but he does not agree that Iowa should be waiting for a blanket nationwide change in rules.
“The states that are ready to start allowing name, image and likeness are going to be at an advantage and Iowa shouldn’t have lesser classifications for our athletes,” he said. “We need to protect our student athletes and we need to step up and do it sooner rather than later.”
Jordan Bohannon, a point guard for the University of Iowa, was disappointed to see the failed legislative effort in 2021 and agrees with Boulton that time is of the essence.
“This is like the most profitable years for a lot of these athletes — especially female athletes — and the idea of kind of being stripped away of these last four years to make any money off your name is ludicrous and I don’t understand why we’ve been restricted like this,” Bohannon said.
How much college athletes could make depends on a variety of factors — the laws and rules in place, the sport, etc. — but students would not be on a fast-track to becoming a millionaire from the billion-dollar industry.
An ESPN study analyzed potential earnings for student athletes, here are some of the findings:
- Social media: $1K-$3K
- Camps/lessons: $2.5K-$5K per year
- Commercials: $500-$4K
- Apparel deals: $0-$1K
- Starting a business: unlimited potential earnings
“Coaches are seeing their salaries expedite every single year and these athletes aren’t seeing anything – their university scholarship stays the same,” Bohannon said. “Yes, we’re given a lot. We’re given clothing, shoes, being able to play on national television, but at the end of the day, that is hardly anything compared to what is out there in the billion-dollar industry of NCAA,” Bohannon said.
Bohannon acknowledged that student athletes — especially those participating in the high-earning sports like football and basketball — already receive a lot of benefits from their schools, but argued it’s more than athletes wanting their fair share of money.
“It’s never been about myself…if I don’t ever benefit from this, this next year, I’m okay with that because I started advocating for college athletes for their coming in the future for my teammates,” he said. “I believe that they are owed more for what they have been giving to the state, to these universities.”