The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Q&A with Ramogi Huma: Why Congress should be addressing way more than NIL

National College Players Association Executive Director Ramogi Huma listens as NCAA President Mark Emmert testifies during a Senate hearing in 2020. (Susan Walsh/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Ramogi Huma, founder and executive director of the National College Players Association, has advocated for college athletes’ rights for more than two decades. A former UCLA linebacker, Huma earned a master’s degree in public health in 2001.

This Q&A, which has been edited for length, expands on some of the views he shared during his Sept. 30 testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee hearing on college athletes’ ability to profit from their name, image and likeness.

Q: How do you view the current moment in college sports in the wake of Supreme Court decisions and state laws that have paved the way for athletes to earn money from their name, image and likeness?

A: I see this moment in college sports as long overdue as well as not enough. I do see a crisis, but it’s a crisis that has been there since before I played: a crisis regarding players’ health and safety, players being stuck with medical bills, poor graduation rates and the lack of economic justice.

Q: Don’t NIL opportunities provide that economic justice?

A: The NIL is not full economic justice. It’s the position that, “Hey, if you want to get a second job, you’re free to do it and get paid.” What about your first job?

College athletes can now earn money and other benefits. Are unions next?

Q: At the moment, more than 30 states have enacted laws or have legislation pending governing NIL deals. Do you see a need for a uniform, national NIL standard to replace that patchwork of state laws?

A: There is room for uniformity; I won’t say there’s a need. The need was the fact that the NCAA was illegally prohibiting college athletes from these opportunities. That need has now been met through the Supreme Court and various state laws. Now, every athlete in the nation has NIL rights, and that is an accomplishment. There are things that can be improved with NIL, but in no way, shape or form are they among any of the crises that are going on in college sports.

Q: Some argue that Congress must intervene, in the absence of a uniform NCAA standard, to prevent the current disparity in NIL rules from creating recruiting advantages. Do you agree?

A: The notion that schools weren’t competing for recruits before NIL is ludicrous. It is a fallacy that there now exists a level playing field on recruiting. Florida State University reported [$152 million] in athletic revenue, while Florida Atlantic University reported only [$36 million]. They are both in the [Football Bowl Subdivision]. How can that be a level playing field? The big fear — and what we’ve been lobbying against in Congress for over a year now — is that in the name of “competitive equity” that doesn’t exist, federal lawmakers are going to start reducing NIL freedoms. And that would hurt players’ opportunities.

Q: Do universities and/or the NCAA now have an obligation to provide education and services to help college athletes hire agents, negotiate contracts and handle the tax implications of their NIL earnings?

A: The irony is that these are institutions of higher education. They have the resources and professors who can teach them about taxes and branding and contracts. They have no excuse to not provide those services now. If there are players who are uninformed, that’s a reflection on the school. Do we need federal law to do that? Well, we shouldn’t.

Q: Should schools or conferences be allowed to structure NIL deals for their athletes, either individually or as a group?

A: No. That is a conflict of interest. If a school represents an athlete, who is to say that an athlete who might otherwise have received $10,000 from Nike now only receives $100 because the school brokered the deal and the other $9,900 goes back to the school in the form of sponsorships?

Q: Would you support a rule barring college athletes from signing deals with a competitor of one of their school’s sponsors? For example, if a university has a Nike deal, should its athletes be barred from signing an NIL deal with Adidas or Converse?

A: That’s a big concern; that would be overreaching. The companies that the schools, conferences and NCAA have sponsorship with cover virtually every major industry. So that means you’re taking apparel away from athletes, soft drinks and all kind of industries, just so the schools can monopolize money that third parties want to flow to players. That is theft. That is a cartel. That’s a restraint of trade that should not be allowed because it’s going to hurt players.

Q: What about a rule barring athletes from striking NIL deals with one of their school’s existing sponsors, on the grounds that it would siphon revenue away from the school?

A: Absolutely not. Any money that flows directly to players because of a decision by a sponsor is money that already should have been flowing to players.

Q: What aspect of NIL rights, then, calls for uniform rules or guidelines? And who do you feel is the proper authority to provide that?

A: Agent certification is one area. And that could be done by a third party — not the NCAA or the schools. Congress should create a player-led oversight commission for this function. Also, Congress could enact narrow legislation prohibiting schools from using NIL deals as recruiting inducements.

Q: In your testimony, you said there are broad-based reforms that Congress should enact that are more important than NIL rules. What are they?

A: Congress needs to address the lack of enforcement of health and safety standards. Between 2000 and 2018, 85 players died in college sports-related workouts. The schools have a conflict of interest, whether it’s to play injured players to win games or to cover up sexual assaults. It doesn’t work, and the NCAA and Congress have known that for decades.

Perspective: Those NCAA doomsday scenarios about NIL? Instead, it’s proven to be a cleanser.

Q: You cited Maryland football player Jordan McNair, who died in 2018 from heatstroke suffered in an offseason workout, among those statistics. What has been his legacy?

A: These are human beings before they’re athletes. They are not property of the university; they are not expendable goods. Jordan’s death was completely preventable. It underscores the point of how devastating inaction can be.

Q: What other issues do you feel demand congressional intervention?

A: Ending the discrimination against female athletes; colleges are not in compliance with Title IX. Athletes should have more time to graduate, given the time demands of their sports — 32 hours a week in their sport alone and 42 hours in football. They should have protection against losing their scholarships, whether for injury or poor performance. As long as they’re showing up to practice, code of conduct is good, then they should be able to prioritize their academics. There also needs to be mandated reporting of abuse and health and safety violations among athletic personnel. There needs to be whistleblower protections for those reporting suspected violations. And there needs to be a third party to investigate and remove violators — either permanently ban or, if minor violations, mandate some kind of training.

Q: How do you respond to those who say that providing all of these services, while laudable, would bankrupt college sports or, at minimum, gut nonrevenue sports and many women’s sports?

A: That is false. First, there is not a choice to comply with Title IX. That is federal law. Second, Division I college sports does not have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem. They gold-plate coaches’ salaries; they gold-plate facilities and recruiting budgets. Look at Division II. They have scholarships, full-time coaches; they travel and have tournaments. There are no big football and basketball revenues in Division II. So how do they manage to exist on smaller budgets? They do so by not overspending. They don’t spend $5 million to $10 million on coaches; they don’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars on facility upgrades. They are more reasonable about it.

Read more from The Post:

For the college athletes who aren’t stars, making money off their image is a job

After backlash, NCAA extends ‘March Madness’ brand to women’s basketball tournament

Buckner: In 2021, women’s sports still provide more outrage than empowerment

From Lexington to Palo Alto to Honolulu, there’s that old wonder: Chaos