The NCAA’s response to Georgia’s new NIL law reveals the emperor’s new clothes

Earlier today, the State of Georgia enacted HB 617, which affirmatively permits college athletes attending schools in that state to receive financial compensation for use of their name, image, or likeness (“NIL”). The new law takes effect on July 1, 2021.

In a nationwide environment in which the NCAA broadly prohibits almost every form of direct financial compensation to so-called “student athletes,” emerging state laws like Georgia’s HB 617– other states joining in this initial wave include Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and New Mexico– offer a commonsense middle ground on compensation that’s short of revenue sharing with school athletic departments and would seem to place schools in those states at a competitive recruiting advantage, at least in the short term.

The NCAA’s initial response to what appears to be a broadside attack on one of the governing body’s longstanding, core tenets was surprising. Jere Morehead, a member of the NCAA Board of Governors “said he would expect the NCAA would allow ‘accommodations,’ to be made for athletes in states with NIL rules.” Morehead also is the president of the University of Georgia, so this may not be the NCAA’s official position on state NIL laws. If the “accommodations” comment reflects in any way the thinking within NCAA leadership, though, it is extremely illuminating.

It’s easy to forget that athletics organizing entities, and especially in light of their popularity and rhetoric the NCAA, NFL, and MLB, do not act and regulate their respective sports with the force of actual law. (In fact, they in some sense operate outside the law thanks to formal and informal antitrust exemptions.) During baseball’s meltdown over Barry Bonds’ superhuman ascension in the early aughts, you could be forgiven if you weren’t sure whether steroids were illegal illegal or merely MLB “illegal.” The NFL also has done an effective job of coopting this officious language into its in-sport vernacular as well (e.g., “illegal touching” having quite different meanings on and off the field). All of these groups have “committees” that issue “rules” and “regulations” just like real government agencies!

For the degree to which these private sports administrative entities control the behavior of their subject players as well as the general public’s perception of the goings-ons in and around their games, it’s sort of amazing that states could just opt out of a major NCAA prohibition and the NCAA’s response is to roll over and take it. Not that passing legislation is easy, but is this all that was needed all along?

If the NCAA’s “accommodations” response proves real, it could carry widespread consequences for the enforceability of other NCAA rules. Suddenly, the implication is that the NCAA will yield wherever its policies conflict with state law. Does this mean an end to the NCAA’s punishment of athletes who use marijuana in states that have authorized its use? What about sports wagering? There of course are other actual legal factors at work with those two examples (the persistent federal marijuana prohibition and common legal provisions restricting wagering by contest participants), and it’s unclear whether an affirmative legalization is a prerequisite (e.g., was Todd Gurley prohibited from being paid for autographed helmets as a matter of Georgia law?) . Still, Morehead’s suggestion that the NCAA will quietly accede in this area implies that there actually may not be much brute behind the bluster out of Indianapolis. If that’s the case, it’s a welcome– if still annoyingly executed– development that should further hasten the loosening of the NCAA’s iron fist over those whose efforts generate millions of dollars in administrative salaries.

Who’s conflicted about sports? World Series of Poker edition

While the idea of writing about the cartographic results of ESPN SportsNation polls long has percolated in my mind, it (obviously to you, erstwhile ALDLAND reader) never took off. In part I suspect this is because there’s little categorical variety in the types of conclusions we ordinarily draw from these maps, those being 1) the one state associated with the obvious minority view holds out, probably irrationally, against the weight of a nationwide majority and 2) shoot, there really aren’t too many people with internet connections in Mississippi are there? After a very short time, this would become boring to read and write.

We are living in the post-peak-SportsNation world, though, which means that, if this thing’s going to work at all, we’ve got to try it now, but with a slightly different angle of approach. Instead of focusing on the people who supported a poll choice, we’ll look at those states where the voters were not able to reach consensus.

For those unfamiliar with the mechanics of these voting maps, ESPN assigns colors to each of the poll options and presents each state as the color of the option most popular among that state’s voters. Where there is a tie between leading options, however, the state appears grey. These indecisive states are the focus here.

ESPN (I assume from the existence of this poll and Norm Macdonald’s late-night tweeting) has been televising the World Series of Poker this week, and SportsNation, in a totally happenstance, non-marketing-driven poll, casually asked, “How would you rate your poker game?” Here are the results:

nv-pokerWhile we could postulate that Louisianans spend too much time playing Three-card Monte and Arkansans are just people who picked up the rudiments of poker as a post-hoc character alibi while on the run from an out-of-state murder rap, but we don’t really know any of that for certain, and it’s more– though still, extremely mildly– entertaining to note that Nevada, home to the nation’s largest casinos, has no opinion on the matter.

UPDATE: A plurality of Nevada voters now say they do not play poker at all. Click the map above to see the very latest results.

The Sports Illustrated cover curse has relocated to page 34

rachel nichols si

If it feels like the force of the Sports Illustrated cover curse has waned, that’s only because the jinx has relocated to page thirty four. There, in this week’s issue, appeared SI media critic Richard Deitsch’s article, “The Case for…Rachel Nichols,” in which Deitsch praised Nichols’ recent “interrogat[ions]” of Roger Goodell and Floyd Mayweather Jr. “on her eponymous CNN show, Unguarded with Rachel Nichols. As a result,” Deitsch proclaimed in a laudatory proclamation highlighted in the featured pull quotation, “Nichols is at the moment the country’s most impactful and prominent female sports journalist.”

That may have been true “at the moment” Deitsch wrote it, but by the time many SI readers saw it, Nichols’ show had been cancelled. That’s pretty devastating all the way around, and if you’re a fan of either Mississippi State or Ole Miss football, both of which share this week’s SI cover, you may be in for a long day today.