NCAA president Mark Emmert is turning to K Street to address the growing conflict over paying student-athletes.
Facing an onslaught of challenges to long-established rules on student amateurism, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is now hiring professionals of its own, through record spending on lobbyists this year.
Several cases have brought the issue of student-athlete compensation to the forefront. Last week, the association announced it would appeal the ruling in the latest suit brought by Ed O’Bannon, the retired professional basketball player and former college star.
An Oakland federal court found the NCAA could not prohibit certain student-athletes from receiving compensation for using their names and images in promotions. In March, a Chicago-based National Labor Relations Board also ruled against NCAA by saying football players at Northwestern University had the right to unionize.
After that ruling – a major blow to the NCAA — the association enlisted an impressive lobbying team in April to increase advocacy in Congress, the first time the group hired lobbyists since 1998. The NCAA squad included heavyweights such as Elizabeth Gore, Marc Lampkin and five key players from Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
In the first half of 2014, the NCAA broke its 2013 record of $160,000 in lobbying expenditures for the entire year. As of June 30, the association spent $240,000, with $180,000 in the second quarter alone.
On every lobbying disclosure report filed after March 2014, the NCAA lists a new topic — “welfare” or “well-being” of student athletes.
Even while lobbyists are working behind the scenes, the NCAA still has a way to go to appease lawmakers.
Emmert testified before a Senate committee in July on the “Well-Being and Academic Success of College Athletes.” Lalita Clozel of OpenSecrets.org reported several media accounts describing the exchange as “challenged,” getting an “earful” and “grilling” from Sen. Claire McCaskill, leading him to (at one point) “scratc[h] his forehead.”