Two University of Notre Dame graduates, and respected college athletics leaders, testified on Tuesday (Oct. 17) at a congressional hearing on “Name, Image, and Likeness, and the Future of College Sports.”
Jack Swarbrick, the University’s vice president and James E. Rohr Director of Athletics and a 1976 graduate, was joined by fellow Notre Dame alumna Jill Bodensteiner, class of ’91, vice president and director of athletics at Saint Joseph’s University, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the changing landscape of college sports and the urgent need for federal regulatory and legislative action.
The well-attended and bipartisan hearing explored the range of threats facing college athletics, including inconsistent and sometimes contradictory regulations on name, image, likeness and ideas across states and schools; the standardization and enforcement of health, wellness and scholarship policies; the specter of crippling lawsuits; and the preservation of competitive equity in college sports. Bodensteiner and Swarbrick each prioritized the necessity of ensuring that student-athletes remain students, first and foremost, in any future federal policies.
Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed concern over the crisis facing college athletics, with Sen. Lindsey Graham asserting, “If this committee and the [U.S. Senate] Commerce Committee doesn’t act in about a year, this thing is going to be an absolute mess and you’re going to destroy college athletics as we know it.”
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Cory Booker echoed similar warnings, citing their extensive work on these issues, including their College Athletes Bill of Rights and Booker’s experience as a collegiate athlete.
Notre Dame and its leadership have been long-standing advocates and supporters of student-athletes, with the University being the first in the country to call for the NCAA to eliminate its prohibition on the ability of student-athletes to benefit from the value of their name, image, likeness and ideas. When Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., advanced that argument in a 2015 interview with the New York Times, his rationale for doing so was clear: It is a principle that lies at the heart of Notre Dame’s approach to collegiate athletics and the University’s belief that student-athletes should have the same rights and standards as other Notre Dame students.
Bodensteiner, who previously served an accomplished 20-year tenure at Notre Dame, and Swarbrick are credited with securing what many believe was the first legal name, image, likeness and idea arrangement for a college student-athlete with the 2018 participation of Notre Dame women’s basketball player Arike Ogunbowale on “Dancing with the Stars.”
In addition to advocating for standardized and enforceable regulations on name, image, likeness and ideas, Bodensteiner and Swarbrick spoke extensively about the importance of maintaining the status of student-athletes as students, not employees. Both athletic directors shared the dire consequences of this status changing, with smaller schools and non-revenue sports facing the greatest risks.
Earlier this year, Father Jenkins and Swarbrick penned an opinion piece outlining the challenges facing our nation’s collegiate athletics model and what actions are required.
Additional hearing witnesses included Charlie Baker, president of the NCAA; Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association; Tony Petitti, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference; Trinity Thomas, a gymnast from the University of Florida; and Walker Jones, executive director of The Grove Collective.
What they're saying
“Notre Dame has been one of the best partners that we’ve had. It’s been extraordinary and honorable the way you’ve been doing it (supporting student-athletes).” — Sen. Cory Booker
“Mr. Swarbrick, I read with great interest your editorial along with Father Jenkins. I just wanted to lift up your focus on college athletics as part of a route to education, to leadership and to opportunity. Your focus on and your support for a medical trust fund and graduation guarantees, I thought, was admirable.” — Sen. Chris Coons