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Romney Meets With Utah Athletic Directors To Talk Student Athlete Pay

Photo of athletic directors and Sen. Mitt Romney at the event.
Jon Reed
From Left: Tim Crompton, interim athletic director at Weber State University; Sen. Mitt Romney; Mark Harlan, athletic director at the University of Utah; Jason Boothe, athletic director at Dixie State University.

Debate is heating up on how universities should move forward after the NCAA’s recent announcement that college athletes may be paid for the rights to use their name, image and likeness. 

The conversation came to Utah on Friday, when U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, held a one-hour roundtable with nearly a dozen college athletic directors from 10 Utah schools.

Romney said a fuse has been lit after California passed its Fair Pay to Play Act in September, which would allow student athletes to sign endorsement deals or hire agents beginning in January 2023. 

“Utah's gonna have to grapple with this and so are other schools across the nation,” he said. “And so there's going to have to be some action taken by the NCAA and potentially by Congress within that three-year time window.”

The decision could have major implications for Utah’s student athletes, particularly in the biggest money-making sports like football and basketball, which bring in millions of dollars for universities every year. Last year, the University of Utah’s football program ranked 37th in a list of the highest value teams in college football, worth $213.6 million. Brigham Young University football ranked 60th, valued at $93.3 million.

While Romney and the 11 athletic directors – ranging from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University to Weber State University – agree that student athletes should be compensated for the time they put in, no concrete ideas emerged on how to do that fairly or without fundamentally changing college sports. 

In response to the NCAA’s initial decision, Romney and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., released a statement in which they said they want to square the imbalance between what coaches and institutions make with the lack of compensation for athletes. And while generally supportive of the move, Romney has expressed concerns over whether name, image and likeness rights would result in unfair treatment of players. 

On Friday, he said Congress would also likely have to intervene if student athletes became university employees, potentially triggering complex employment laws such as wrongful termination. 

Tom Holmoe, the athletic director at Brigham Young University, said that while questions remain, the intention of the roundtable was not to solve the issue. 

“That would be a real reach,” he said. “But I think that we understand how everybody else feels, and I would like to think that we could continue our discussion.”

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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