Hunter Yurachek, in some ways, is a lot like his fellow athletic directors across the landscape of college athletics. By and large, they are not fans of what NIL (name, image, likeness) law and policy have done to sports.
So the Arkansas athletic director authored an editorial in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last Sunday, calling for an authority no lower than the United States Congress to enact national standards for NIL.
In other words, government intervention/interference, a proposition generally not looked at kindly by states in SEC country.
The introduction of NIL in 2021 has allowed college athletes to make money from their, well, name, image and likeness. Unfortunately, the NCAA didn’t exactly have a plan for rolling out the program. Administrators and athletic departments across the spectrum were ill-prepared for the amount of power student-athletes could wield as a result.
Sure, NIL has had some negative effect on college sports. Yet only the disingenuous – or those with ulterior motives, largely financial in nature – would argue that the effect has been more negative than positive.
The NIL Conundrum
Right now, individual states or individual institutions make up their own rules, up to a certain point, about how best to apply NIL and develop its standards. Some states and institutions, as Hunter Yurachek wrote, have no real set of rules in place at all, only exacerbating the perceived chaos. The thesis of the editorial is that Congress is the only body that can fix what ails.
And that’s fine, especially if one prefers such an approach. It worked for The New Deal.
But college sports, largely, is already a government endeavor. In a manner of speaking. At least, most of the best college football programs, anyway, are public institutions, meaning they are funded, in large part, by the government and are, to varying degrees, bound by that government’s oversight. Certainly, the University of Arkansas fits this bill. (Private institutions such as USC and Notre Dame are different animals, of course.)
An approach pushing for the federal government to step seems antithetical to the values of most fans in SEC territory, a collection of southeastern states that all (save Georgia) tend to vote against those kinds of measures during election times in this day and age. That irony is also just fine. It takes all kinds.
As things stand, there is no overarching framework for member institutions of the NCAA on how to handle NIL and its associated complications. Much of what administrators see as chaos has come because of that lack of consistent application and Hunter Yurachek, understandably, appears to be one who agrees with calling it chaos — specifically the collectives that have popped up around the country.
Laws Proposed in California
Yurachek makes mention that California, a state with a significantly different populace in both number and demographic makeup than Arkansas, introduced a bill that would pay athletes 50% of revenue made by their school’s athletic department. The bill that initially included that 50% number died in May 2022 in California’s legislature.
The problem with the bill and those like it, Yurachek wrote, is that it would destroy non-revenue-generating sports. Think Olympic sports like swimming and diving, gymnastics, etc. Those sports are, at most schools, subsidized in part by those that do generate revenue, like football and men’s basketball. Largely, most would agree with him in coming to that conclusion.
But, again, that bill is dead.
An alternate bill, however, seeks to adjust the way college athletes are paid by their schools. Introduced in 2023, it’s on a path to be debated by the state at some point later this session. Commonly called the College Athlete Protection Act, technically called Assembly Bill 252, that bill calls for schools to set aside some of their money generated by athletics to hold and pay athletes upon said athletes’ graduation. The 50% revenue number is within the framework, but its effect on non-revenue sports is moot because the bill has built-in guardrails for non-revenue-generating sports.
Jay Bilas Responds
When college basketball analyst Jay Bilas called out the content of Hunter Yurachek’s editorial on X, formerly known as Twitter, the Arkansas athletic director responded with an invitation for Bilas to “spend a day with me in Fayetteville. Full transparency on our revenues and expenses for @ArkRazorbacks. If you are going to make a seven-figure salary covering college athletics, you should probably be educated on college athletics.”
Bilas has a degree from Duke, a school with an elite academic education, in Political Science. While serving as an assistant basketball coach under Mike Krzyzewski, Bilas also earned a law degree from Duke. In addition to his college basketball analyst career that began in 1995, he’s also a full-time practicing attorney in the state of North Carolina.
Yurachek’s fear, as written, is that other states could follow California’s path and enact similar bills that would pay athletes that percentage. But if California, which is about as blue as Arkansas is red, killed that initial proposition it seems unlikely that more conservative state legislatures would take it up. Even if the College Athlete Protection Act passes through the California legislature and becomes law in that state, redder states are still unlikely to enact similar laws. States’ rights and all that.
The core issue for some, both from a fan perspective and an administrative one, is that the introduction of NIL turned college sports from amateur to professional. It allowed, along with other factors, college athletes to become something like free agents. No one knows how to deal with that on an administrative level, so help, as it were, is desperately sought.
The counter-argument is that college sports have done this to themselves, too. Years of exploiting the players, purposefully or otherwise, has come back to bite. Over-inflated coaching salaries are harder to curb than simply taking that money out of players’ pockets. Besides, let’s not pretend the recent insanity that has been college football realignment has happened to preserve the authenticity of the game. It’s about money. It’s always about money.
And to reiterate, that’s A-OK (nonsensical to this writer, but we all have points of view). At some point, though, we as consumers and supporters of the game have to accept that fact without blinders and stop pretending it’s something more wholesome.
Hunter Yurachek goes into detail about why he’s specifically concerned about NIL collectives during this recent interview with 103.7 The Buzz:
More on Hunter Yurachek vs Jay Bilas starting at 31:28 below:
More coverage of NIL and Razorbacks from BoAS…