revenue sharing

College Sports Recruiting Shouldn’t Go to the Highest Bidder

6 mins read

March Madness, one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans, is upon us. With 68 teams competing for the national championship (where just last season an 11 seed appeared in the Final Four and a team as high as an eight seed has won The Big Dance), the beauty of college basketball’s unpredictability is alive and well, and any team can win it all. 

However, the competitive nature of March Madness and college athletics as a whole are in jeopardy. Statehouses across the country are passing varying bills regarding use of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) and revenue sharing, creating a patchwork of disparate rules that will ultimately have a detrimental effect on recruiting, the lifeblood of collegiate sports. That’s why it is critical that Congress step in and pass universal standards. 

In 2019, California passed a bill allowing players to profit off of their Name, Image, and Likeness, which was followed by 31 other states passing similar legislation. While the NIL movement is a sign of progress in college sports, this patchwork system of certain schools being governed by NIL laws while others aren’t, in addition to the laws being different in each state, has created an enormous disparity in the ability of players to market their NIL based on where they attend school. 

Additionally, states continue changing their own NIL laws (and in California’s case, taking it a step further by requiring schools to share 50% of a sport’s revenues with players), making it even more difficult for universities and players to keep up. Moreover, wealthy universities have already spent top dollar developing infrastructure to be as competitive as possible with NIL offers, including hiring attorneys and consultants for compliance and revenue creation opportunities.

The consequences of this legislative patchwork on collegiate recruiting are palpable. 

For starters, the rise of revenue sharing legislation, spearheaded by California, will create a system where top recruits will more likely go to the highest bidder. This pay-for-play method will undoubtedly advantage those states with the most significant revenue sharing requirements, and place other states at an unfair disadvantage. The overwhelming majority of Football Bowl Subdivision athletic directors are extremely wary of this system becoming the norm, as it will create  an arms race for recruits that many smaller schools and those in certain states are financially locked out of. 

Additionally, inadequacies found through the patchwork of state laws jeopardizes the broader recruitment system. For example, Florida recently passed NIL legislation that would allow schools to play a more active role in facilitatingNIL deals. However, the bill lacks a strong enforcement mechanism that would prevent an indirect form of pay-for-play, which could put Florida schools at an unfair advantage over other schools as they recruit athletes.

Varying deficiencies in state-level NIL laws are quickly becoming the norm, rather than the exception. 50 states with 50 different policies creates a quagmire that schools and student athletes alike will struggle to navigate and comply with throughout the recruiting process. This is why Congress must act. 

Congress needs to set a national standard for NIL by passing a law that provides uniformity for each state, school, and athletic department. This will put each stakeholder on the same recruiting playing field, while ensuring players can still take advantage of their NIL. We are already seeing the recruiting and financial disparities resulting from each state having unique laws, and it’s a problem that will only get worse as more states pass varying legislation.

National legislation would cut out the legal guesswork for players as they make attendance decisions, while making it easier for schools to comply with regulations as they seek recruits. It also will ensure that no single state or school will have an unfair advantage over others as they seek to build out their athletic rosters in the future, ensuring the integrity of athletic play. 

We all love filling out our brackets and rooting for the underdogs who upset the status quo – the beauty of March Madness and collegiate athletics. Sadly, while NIL’s intention to reward athletes for their performance was derived from a sense of equity, it cannot be equitably enforced at the state level. The current system poses a serious threat to recruitment and by extension the competitive nature of college sports that so many of us enjoy.

Brionna Dickerson Zimmerman is a former women’s basketball letterman at the University of South Carolina and the associate athletic director at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School.

The MinorityEye is a news and information aggregator that curates the voices, thoughts and perspectives of minority writers, bloggers, authors, reporters, columnists, pundits, consultants and thought leaders as well as those who write about minorities and issues that impact people and communities of color.

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