Regents: Let NCAA act on payment to college athletes

Iowa state Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, describes a bill, advanced Tuesday, that would allow Iowa college and university students to accept payments for their image and likeness. Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, co-sponsored the bill. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A high-profile bill that would allow Iowa college and university athletes to make money from their image advanced in the Iowa Legislature Tuesday, but not before a state lawmaker and a Board of Regents representative gave very different views of the legislation.

Keith Saunders, state relations officer for the Board of Regents, which runs the three state universities, said he can see why Sens. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, and Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, brought the bill, Senate File 2058. But Saunders suggested that with the NCAA increasingly getting the message it must act on the issue, and Congress getting involved, he’d rather see Iowa wait for a national answer. Thirty states are considering bills. 

“This needs to be a national solution,” said Saunders, who registered as “undecided” on the bill in the lobbyist declarations. “This cannot be a solution that is approached with 50 different answers in each different state.”

Saunders suggested the NCAA has heard the uproar from the states and will be ready to act. 

Frank Chiodo, representing the also-undecided Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, agreed with Saunders’ concern of having “50 different answers” from the states. 

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said waiting for the NCAA would be a mistake. “Frankly, anybody who has faith in our do-nothing Congress getting anything done on any kind of predictable schedule should adopt the middle name Pollyanna,” a reference to an exceptionally optimistic character in Eleanor Porter’s 1913 novel. “If Congress moves it all it is because of pressure from state initiatives,” said Quirmbach, an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University.

Quirmbach said student-athletes have told him they struggle in class due to time demands from their sports. The bill would limit the hours schools can demand for the activities.

Then there’s the issue of schools making millions of dollars off the student-athletes’ performances and likenesses. “Especially in football, they’re putting their bodies on the line,” Quirmbach said. “They’re risking permanent injury and in Jack Trice’s case, death, to play sports to represent their schools and to provide entertainment. And there’s value for that on campus, but it also generates vast flows of cash. And so far the student athletes have gotten very little of that.”

Jack Trice was the first African-American athlete at Iowa State, who died from injuries suffered in a football game in October 1923.

Boulton said with California schools already headed out of compliance in 2023 with the NCAA’s historically strict rules against student-athletes selling endorsements and the like, the heat is on the NCAA. “The reality is, without the pressures that have been put on by state legislatures, the NCAA has chosen to punt on this issue every time,” Boulton said.

At Zaun’s suggestion, the bill would give schools the right to keep the athletes’ earnings from their likeness or image in a trust fund until the athlete runs out of eligibility to compete for the school. 

The bill advanced to the full Senate Education Committee.