The athletic directors at America’s major college football-playing universities are forming a political action committee. The group will be called LEAD1, and it’ll represent the ADs at 129 Football Bowl Subdivision schools. It was announced Thursday morning. The group was formerly the D1A Athletic Directors' Association. It wasn’t a PAC.
This PAC is being formed to lobby members of Congress in Washington. PACs can give limited donations to specific candidates and parties, and because of the Citizens United decision, they can independently spend as much money as they want to help a given candidate or party win an election. They’re a huge part of this country’s political ecosystem, both at the federal and state level. This one appears to be a federal PAC, though it’s not clear if its members might look for ways to lobby states, too.
“With the PAC now approved, it further ensures that the concerns of the LEAD1 members will be heard by members of Congress, and other key decision makers in Washington, D.C. and across the country,” announced Tom McMillen, a former three-term congressman and Maryland basketball player who will serve as the PAC’s president and CEO.
What’s interesting about this PAC is who comprises it, and how its members could use it. It’s pretty hard to get 129 strong-minded college athletic directors to agree on policy goals. But if the ADs saw fit to start a PAC to lobby politicians independent of the broader NCAA, it suggests they’re prepared to rally around at least one cause.
Let’s not overthink what “concerns” these ADs might have.
This PAC is going to try to keep college athletes from getting paid.
It could do that in lots of different ways. It could lobby against specific nominees for the National Labor Relations Board, whose members can ultimately decide things like who gets to unionize and who doesn’t. (This was a big deal in the case involving Northwestern football players in 2014.) It could lobby for or against congressional candidates, depending on how friendly they are to the cause.
It could lobby for or against specific legislation that deals with the issue. It could lobby for or against judicial nominees who might have to rule on amateurism issues at some point or another. The federal government has a lot of tools in its toolbox. So do states, to a lesser degree, if the ADs try to be active beyond Washington. (There are rules differentiating PACs between federal and state governments.)
There might be other causes the PAC comes to support. It says it will be “advocating for the future of college athletics, and providing various services to the members, ranging from professional development to pooled purchasing arrangements.”
The PAC might want to ward off some overreaching senator from interfering with the College Football Playoff, or work on other causes that pop up over time. But big schools already have some sort of lobbying presence to work on issues they care about, so this PAC has to offer something different.
Athletic directors come from all corners of the country. Colleges are more left-leaning than most places, of course, but the political dynamics for the athletic directors at, say, Wyoming and Maryland, are drastically different. They serve different alumni bases and work in states with different political majorities.
There aren’t many things all 129 athletic directors would want to do politically together. But preventing their athletes from getting paid is a sensible common cause, no matter what form that advocacy turns out to take.