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 Southeastern Conference 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 of influencing Congress to individual universities and the NCAA.
In a statement to 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 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 laws that would that would guarantee that right to athletes with few of the restrictions the NCAA is seeking. Florida could be the first to have its law take effect, starting next year.
The NCAA is pushing Congress for a federal law that would render those 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 President Mark Emmert said Congress needs to put “guardrails” on athletes' ability to earn money, in part to protect against potential recruiting abuses and endorsement money being used as a pay-for-play scheme. 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 college student.