EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a former college football coach, is taking aim at the growing influence of money in college sports amid the rise of name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation for student athletes and the conference realignment between some of the nation’s top college athletic programs for better TV deals.
Speaking with Fox News Digital as a new college football season kicks off, Tuberville touted a bill he and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin recently introduced that would overhaul collegiate athletics and create a national standard for NIL. But Tuberville warned that continuing down the path of molding the industry around maximizing profits for programs and individuals could ultimately “ruin” college sports.
“I’m fine with it. I think it’s good that players make money off their name, but it’s gotten out of hand,” Tuberville told Fox. “Right now it’s a Wild West. It’s out of control. Money is flying everywhere. Some players are getting their money, some players aren’t. There’s no oversight. So we’re trying to put some oversight into this.”
Tuberville, who served as head football coach at multiple schools, including Auburn University, and Manchin, a former West Virginia University football player, introduced the Protecting Athletes, Schools and Sports Act, or PASS Act, in July, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the NCAA had illegally restricted education-based benefits that could be used as compensation to student athletes.
In response to that decision, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors implemented an “interim” policy suspending its NIL compensation rules until the NCAA adopted new rules or Congress passed legislation.
“All the coaches and administrators started coming to me because they knew I knew quite a bit about college sports, and they asked me to get involved. They were very concerned about the future and the direction that this NIL is taking college athletes and college sports,” Tuberville said.
The bill would set rules for collectives and boosters, protect student athletes, maintain fair competition between schools and states, require collectives and boosters to be affiliated with a college or school, prohibit inducements and ban certain NIL agreements, such as those that “involve alcohol, drugs, or conflict with existing school and conference licenses,” and would grant the NCAA oversight and investigative authority over NIL activities.
It would also make changes to the transfer portal, requiring student athletes to complete their first three years of academic eligibility before allowing them to transfer without penalty, with few exceptions, and would mandate that four-year institutions provide healthcare coverage to student athletes, including insurance to athletes who are uninsured for eight years after they graduate.
Tuberville said that during the process of formulating the bill, he and Manchin met with school administrators, coaches, players, parents, collectives and anybody else who might be involved in the system, and came up with the “basic principles” he said would be the bases for all 50 states to move in the same direction on NIL regulations.
He stressed the importance of making sure student athletes had access to health care, as well as managing the emphasis on money for some players trying to take advantage of the transfer portal that allows them to switch schools once within four years without a waver from the NCAA.
“It’s just become a bidding war, to be honest with you,” Tuberville said of the portal. “Players are getting involved with agents and lawyers and accountants and trying to make more and more money instead of, number one, getting an education, and number two, having a lifelong experience.”
He added that the bill was intended to give coaches, athletes, administrators and the NCAA what they needed to manage the process, and to help avoid a “total disaster over the next few years,” which he warned could lead to a lack of funding for Olympic and women’s sports.
“They don’t bring in a lot of money. They pretty much live off football, college football and the money that it brings in, along with TV,” Tuberville said. “We’re not trying to invent the wheel here. We’re trying to give them some starting point where the NCAA can jump in and get involved in this.”
Tuberville went on to emphasize the needed for separation between NIL compensation for performance, and coaches using it as a recruiting tool to lure high school athletes to their programs, something he said was negatively impacting women athletes.
“Very few women athletes are benefiting from this NIL. Just a few. There’s a lot more men athletes. So, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to make sure that recruiting, number one, stays out of the NIL. This [Supreme Court] ruling had nothing to do with some states, for instance, going out and offering ninth and 10th graders money to sign with their school two or three years later after they graduate. It has nothing to do with it,” he said.
“As [Coach Lane] Kiffin said from Ole Miss, this is legalized cheating,” he added. “Now, again, I am all for athletes making money, but we’re trying to make sure that we do it the right way to where the athletes — and not just one or two — a lot of them benefit from this: Men and women, Olympic sports, women’s sports, basketball, baseball, softball, it doesn’t make any difference.”
When asked about the conference realignments that have continued to extend beyond geographic regions to what many have warned could be at the detriment of the student athletes and their quality of life and education, Tuberville said it came down to one thing: “Follow the money.”
“That’s what’s happening here with these universities that are going from pretty much from the West Coast trying to compete against the East Coast teams because they have really nothing going for them when it comes to TV because most of the people on the East Coast that really love college sports are in bed,” he said, referencing schools like USC and UCLA planning to leave the PAC-12 in the West and join the Big 10, made up of schools primarily in the Midwest and Northeast.
“College sports should be all about education first, and college sports second, and making sure that everybody has a great experience,” he said. “They’re all trying to get to the money because money drives everything. As we all know, television drives the money. I just hope that they don’t ruin the golden goose that is helping all sports and not just look out for one or two sports.”
Fox News’ Chris Pandolfo contributed to this report.