GUEST COLUMN — Texas needs to continue leading on securing college sports

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, April 3, 2024

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Everything is bigger in Texas – and perhaps nowhere is that age-old adage more apparent than the passion we have for our sports. From high school football to the Olympics, Texans have a passion for sports that runs deep.

Texas has produced more NFL players than any other state and is in the top 5 when it comes to NBA players. Perhaps most impressive is that the University of Texas-Austin ranked in the top 5 among all U.S. universities for Olympic medals won by students and alumni from the games in Tokyo, with U-T student-athletes and alumni having produced 153 all-time Olympic medals.

Unfortunately, the system that has led to so much success for athletes across the Lone Star State is in jeopardy of dramatic change that could eliminate potential opportunities for future student-athletes.

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The college athletics model has undergone significant changes since student-athletes were granted the ability to benefit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). And, while those changes have resulted in many positives for student-athletes, it has created several unintended consequences that have left the current college athletics model in uncharted territory with an uncertain future.

Unsurprisingly, Texas and Senator Ted Cruz are embracing a leadership role, serving as a key advocate in Congressional negotiations for legislation to secure the future of college athletics – a solution that Congress is uniquely positioned to provide.

But with Senator Cruz’s guidance – including the recent roundtable discussion featuring key voices in college athletics – Congress has its best opportunity yet to reach a solution addressing the pressing issues in college athletics.

One of those issues is the constantly changing state laws, with states regularly revising or passing new laws in order to gain a competitive advantage for the universities within their state.

These laws also have the added benefit of kneecapping any ability to regulate NIL, because there are now dozens of state laws that all preclude any governing body from imposing stricter guidelines than what their state law allows.

Additionally, these patchwork laws and the lack of ability to effectively regulate have resulted in a chaotic system that is rampant with inducements to high school recruits and transfers via pay-for-play schemes by collectives, NIL deals that are promised but never materialize, students entering the transfer portal on bad advice from self-interested parties only to be left without a transfer home, underhanded NIL deals from bad actors that run in perpetuity long after a student-athlete has graduated, and many other complex and unfortunate pitfalls.

Further, schools across the country are becoming increasingly concerned over potential issues forcing student-athletes to be given employment status following the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that Dartmouth men’s basketball players are employees of the institution.

Senator Cruz and Congress are on a mission to fix this. Through federal legislation many of these issues can be resolved. A law passed by Congress would eliminate the complexities associated with the varying state laws and allow proper governance of NIL. It would emphasize that academics still have a vital role to play in the student-athlete experience. It would help return NIL to what it was intended for and protect the positive growth we’ve seen in recent years, while also addressing many of the concerns that have become associated with NIL.

Time is running out as we approach a fork in the road. If Congress continues kicking the can down the road, it leaves the future of college athletics hanging by a thread and risks the possibility of irreparable harm.

Alternatively, Congress can seize this opportunity with growing momentum to take decisive action to secure future opportunities for college athletes.

When it comes to sports, nobody does it bigger or better than Texas. Senator Cruz knows this and he is working to continue our state’s legacy of leading the way. With a federal NIL bill, we can preserve opportunities for the student-athletes who will not only go on to be the next generation of Hall of Famers or future Olympians, but will be the future doctors, lawyers, small business owners, and leaders who make our communities great.

Jeff Leach is a member of the Texas House of Representatives, representing District 67. He was born and raised in Plano, and has an undergraduate degree from Baylor.