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SALT LAKE CITY — After emerging from a meeting with athletic directors from Utah universities Friday, Sen. Mitt Romney said each one of them has a different perspective on compensation for college athletes.
“There’s not a meeting of the minds as to exactly what should happen,” the Utah Republican said. “But we’re gathering thoughts as to what the NCAA might be able to do, and, of course, what Congress may be called upon to do.”
Ideas among the 11 administrators ranged from letting the market play with no regulation or legislation, to placing limits on compensation so there aren’t disparities among universities based on their alumni or locations, Romney said.
Friday was the first time schools in the state, including the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, gathered to talk about the issue, largely ignited by California’s Fair Pay for Play legislation. At least 20 other states are considering similar proposals. Utah is not among them.
Also, the NCAA board of governors votes last month to allow student-athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness once its three divisions decide on rules for such opportunities.
“Utah is going to have to grapple with this and so are other schools across the nation,” Romney said.
U. athletic director Mark Harlan said Romney was up to speed on the issue and had some great thoughts.
“I think he learned some things, too,” Harlan said. “I think it was a very productive day.”
Romney, who met with NCAA President Mark Emmert in Washington this week, favors paying college athletes, but not just the star players in popular sports.
“My motivation is to look to the very poor athletes who are sending home, if you will, lunch money to their single mom and for their brothers and sisters that are home who really don’t have resources. I want to find a way to help them,” he said.
Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said he’s a proponent of making sure the university does everything it can for student-athletes. He said there’s been a lot of changes in college sports over the last decade to where U. athletes who live off campus now receive $1,500 a month in addition to their tuition.
“That’s being said, we have to be thoughtful and we have to be creative to find paths. It’s a new day. I think shutting yourself off to the issue is the last thing you can do,” he said.
Harlan said he believes there is a way for Congress to get involved that makes sense. Having standardized rules is a good starting point, he said.
“If the states have different ideas of things, I think that’s where Congress would come in,” he said. Universities working it out themselves would be the best choice, he believes, but with legislation already passed in California, “I think that route to Washington, D.C., is somewhat apparent.”
The California bill is scheduled to take effect in three years. Romney — who earlier told the NCAA “We’re coming after you” — said he’d wants some action from the NCAA or Congress within that time frame. Whether legislation is needed depends on what the university presidents, athletic directors and coaches come up with, he said.
“California has lit the fuse,” Romney said.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe there’s not a definitive solution out there right now. Half of people might say pay college athletes, while the other half might say don’t pay them, he said.
“That’s not really an answer. That’s not going to be the answer. It’s going to be some way. How do you do it? There’s got to be a way to do it,” he said. “I think a lot of the administrators are concerned with the ramifications.”
Holmoe said the longstanding tradition of the amateur athlete has changed. He said he’s looking for a new model, but he likes amateurism.
“But the old school amateurism is old school. We have to come up with something somehow, some way or somebody’s going to do it for us,” he said.
Congress might need to get involved because of the various state proposals, Holmoe said. The only way around disparate legislation is a national law that all schools can be comfortable with, he said.
Holmoe said social media and the way information passes today are drivers for athlete compensation. “This couldn’t happen 10, 15 years ago,” he said.
Romney said it sounds simple to allow athletes the right to their name, image and likeness, but there are consequences relating to employment law or whether some schools would become “super magnets” because they could provide more value than others.
“I don’t want to throw everything up in the air and in some way damage the kind of competitiveness that has long existed in intercollegiate sport,” Romney said.