SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee challenged the NCAA’s opposition on a new Idaho law that bans transgender women from competing in women’s college sports in a Senate hearing Wednesday.
“I am concerned about the NCAA’s track record of undermining women by pushing schools to allow individuals born biologically of one gender to participate in another gender’s sports,” Lee told NCAA President Mark Emmert.
“I’m worried about some of the policies that you’ve taken. It’s offensive to me and to millions of Americans that the great strides our society has taken to protect women’s rights and women’s sports are now at risk of being undone.”
Lee, R-Utah, cited a first-of-its-kind law in Idaho that took effect this month banning transgender women from playing high school and college sports in the state.
He asked Emmert if he stands by an NCAA statement in June that said the bill is “harmful to transgender student athletes and conflicts with the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and the equitable treatment of all individuals.”
“Senator, I don’t,” Emmert replied. “I think it’s an extremely challenging issue, obviously.”
Emmert said the NCAA has worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee in order keep its policies parallel around the participation of transgender athletes.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held the hearing to discuss ways to protect the integrity of college athletics.
Lee also questioned Emmert about competing proposals on compensating college athletes to make money on the use of their name, likeness and image.
One plan would give the NCAA, which Lee called the “de facto collegiate athletics cartel,” broad antitrust immunity to come up with its own rules for member schools.
The Power Five conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — are backing a bill that would write the rules into federal law and create a Federal Trade Commission regulatory office funded by a tax on agents that Lee said would inevitably be passed on to the athletes those agents represent.
Although the proposals take different approaches, they both ask the government to displace competition, Lee said.
“It would be insufficient to merely call it ironic that two groups supposedly dedicated to facilitating literal competition among others are so reticent to engage in competition themselves,” he said.
Why shouldn’t collegiate sports let the free market protected by longstanding antitrust laws play out naturally? Why should the government be tipping the scales one way or the other? Lee asked.
Emmert said the fundamental principle is that in order allow name and image likeness opportunities to occur in an open marketplace, media rights for sponsorship or social influencer revenues that comes to those athletes should not be distorted by boosters who don’t care about their value but are trying to induce them to attend a specific school.
Lee also questioned Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich about provisions in the Power 5 proposal that prohibit athletes from licensing their rights to the school’s sponsors and also allows schools to prevent athletes from licensing their rights to a competing sponsor.
“Won’t this effectively rule out a vast majority of potential sponsors for student-athletes?
Radakovich said the rule is “problematic on its face, for sure.” He said there’s time and opportunity to get the rules right before the January 2021 deadline.