past event

Future of College Sports: Government’s Role in Athlete Pay


The NCAA has long denied college athletes the opportunity to gain from the commercial use of their identify rights. In May 2018, our Future of Sports series posed the question: What if college athletes could receive sponsorship money based off their own name, image and likeness (NIL)? We explored what such a model might look like.

There is now widespread public support for allowing NIL rights, led by California becoming the first state to allow athletes to profit off their name, beginning in 2023. More than a dozen other states are showing interest in creating similar laws. Federal legislation has been proposed by Republican North Carolina Congressman Mark Walker that would amend the definition of a qualified amateur sports organization in the tax code to remove the restriction on athletes profiting off their NIL. Meanwhile, the NCAA announced it will permit college athletes “the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness,” though the statement lacked any specific policies or procedures at this time, only principles and guidelines for each NCAA division to begin the process of creating its rules.

At our Future of Sports event on Dec. 17, 2019, we advanced the conversation. What if Congress developed a national solution to the college athlete pay debate? Should the federal government get involved, and if so, how? What would be the implications for the NCAA and college athletes? What interest does Congress have in stepping in to potentially create federal law instead of a state-by-state approach?

Event Agenda

Conversation with Mark Emmert
Mark Emmert, NCAA president (one-on-one conversation)
Jon Solomon (moderator), Aspen Institute Sports & Society editorial director

College Sports Expert Panel
Ramogi Huma, National College Players Association executive director
Amy Perko , Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics CEO
Michael McCann, University of New Hampshire sports law professor, Sports Illustrated legal analyst
Ben Strauss (moderator), Washington Post sports reporter, co-author of Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA

Political Panel
Mark Walker, North Carolina congressman
Joe Tate, Michigan state representative, former Michigan State University football player
Donna Lopiano, Drake Group president-elect, former University of Texas women’s athletic director
• Tom Farrey 
(moderator), Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program executive director

Note: Florida Congresswoman Donna Shalala was originally scheduled to attend. She was unable to participate due to a House rules committee meeting on impeachment.

Media Coverage
Sports Illustrated: Mark Emmert, NCAA turn to Congress amid NIL debate

Sports Illustrated: Breaking down how the NCAA, Mark Emmert might approach NIL issue

USA Today: Two U.S. Senators appear to be taking aim at NCAA even beyond image, likeness controversy

Washington Post: Don’t let NCAA suits decide college athletes’ future without athletes having a role NCAA President Mark Emmert meets with legislators as demand for changes in rules grows

New York Daily News: NCAA isn’t serious about paying college athletes

U.S. News & World Report: NCAA to Congress on pay-to-play laws: “We need your help right now”

Future of Sports is a quarterly conversation series by the Sports & Society Program that helps stakeholders think through key questions shaping the future of our games, the sports industry and its impact on society. Past events examined the future of football, college athlete pay, sports betting, athlete activism, coaching, and the U.S. Olympic movement. If interested in funding Future of Sports in 2020, contact Sports & Society Program Editorial Director Jon Solomon at

Thank you to The Washington Post for its support as media partner of the Future of Sports series.

Event information
Tue Dec 17, 2019
12:30pm - 2:30pm EDT
The Aspen Institute
2300 N St. NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC