Power Five pay lobbyists as advocates on NIL issues

The SEC spent $140,000 on lobbying in the first three months of the year, more than any other major conference. Commissioner Greg Sankey said the SEC needs to have a voice in potential federal laws on athlete compensation.

The Power Five conferences spent $350,000 on lobbying in the first three months of 2020, more than they had previously spent in any full year, as part of a coordinated effort to influence Congress on legislation affecting the ability of college athletes to earn endorsement money.

The SEC was the biggest spender, hiring three lobbying firms and paying them a total of $140,000, according to lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by the Associated Press. Before this year, the SEC did not employ Washington lobbyists, instead leaving the work to individual universities and the NCAA.

In a statement to the AP, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference hired lobbyists so it could be part of the discussion as Congress gets more serious about reforming college sports.

"It is important for the SEC to have a voice in this national dialogue," Sankey said. "We look forward to a constructive exchange of ideas about ways we can further enhance our student-athletes' educational and athletic experiences while ensuring that any future

changes can be administered fairly on a national level."

The NCAA announced last month that it was moving forward with a plan to allow college athletes to earn money for endorsements and other activities including personal appearances and social media content. California and other states have passed name, image and likeness laws that would guarantee that right to athletes with few of the restrictions the NCAA is seeking.

The NCAA is pushing Congress for a federal law that would render state laws moot and perhaps stave off future legal challenges.

Conference commissioners have spoken about a chaotic recruiting environment that would result from a handful of states passing athlete-friendly laws and schools using them to entice the best players.

At a hearing in February, NCAA PresidentMark Emmert said Congress needs to put "guardrails" on athletes' ability to earn money, in part to protect against potential recruiting abuses. That argument was met with skepticism by some lawmakers and athlete advocates, who believe scholarship athletes should have access to the free market like any other student.

The NCAA's lobbyists have continued to press the case for those guardrails, and now they have more help. A document circulated by the Power Five lobbyists, obtained by the AP, lists the conferences' "core principles" for athlete compensation, andmost of those include limitations.

They include: a requirement for one term of academic progress before athletes can sign endorsement deals; a ban on deals with "advertising categories inconsistent with higher education"; and limits on who can advise athletes on third-party contracts to prevent "unscrupulous actors."

Each Power Five conference hired the same two lobbying firms this year, and each firm collected $10,000 from each conference.

Like the SEC, the Pac-12 and the Big Ten also hired their first Washington lobbyists. The Pac-12 spent $70,000. The Big Ten paid $20,000 to the firms working for all the Power Five but did not hire its own dedicated lobbyist.

The ACC and the Big 12 each spent $60,000 - $40,000 on their own lobbyists and $20,000 on the Power Five firms.

Rep. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican and an outspoken NCAA critic, said the NCAA and its allies were "tone deaf" for spending money on lobbying to limit the earning power of athletes during a pandemic that has wrecked the U.S. economy.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford said he expected the Power Five to continue to have a lobbying presence.

"With the potential financial implications that come with the pandemic, I think any and all expenditures will be considered," Swofford said. "But this is also a very important issue in terms of the future of college athletics and what it looks like."

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