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House minority leader wants compensation for college athletes

Proposal similar to measure that California governor signed into law

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee wants college student athletes in Florida to be able to cash in on their names and images, similar to a measure that California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Monday.

McGhee, D-Miami, has filed a proposal (HB 251) for the 2020 legislative session that would allow Florida college and university athletes to be compensated through endorsement deals that use their names, images and likenesses.

"The NCAA regularly earns more than $1 billion per year, but these student athletes aren't allowed to accept a bag of groceries," McGhee said in a Sept. 20 release announcing his bill, which was filed Monday. "Many of these kids aren't from families that can afford to send them money, but they're sports superstars and household names. That's not fair. It's time we allowed these adults the ability to earn a living for themselves and their families while they make a fortune for others and entertain millions of fans."

McGhee added, "The insistence that college athletes follow a strict definition of being ‘non-professionals' is a holdover from decades ago and doesn't accurately reflect modern college athletics."

NCAA President Mark Emmert, along with other members of the organization's board of governors, lobbied against the California proposal, contending in a Sept. 11 letter to Newsom that "member schools are already working on changing rules for all student-athletes to appropriately use their name, image and likeness in accordance with our values -- but not to pay them to play."

The letter also said, "If the bill becomes law and California's 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions."

With more and more money being generated through college sports, attitudes are changing about whether college athletes should be allowed to be paid, said Dr. Jason Pappas, a sports management professor at Florida State University,

"It's just becoming more and more of a business," Pappas said Wednesday. "I mean, you have college coaches making close to $10 million a year."

But Pappas and others are concerned allowing players to profit may harm competition.

"We promote recruiting at such a high level now that it's only going to perpetuate based on those institutions willing to and able to pay for those endorsements to be able to signify that they're a Nike school or an Adidas school," Pappas said.

Some big names in Florida college athletics, such as FSU head football coach Willie Taggart, are behind the idea.  

"I think that's fair," Taggart said. "I mean, it's a new time."

So are players such as FSU running back Cam Akers.

"Me being biased, I'm a college athlete, but yeah, I think so," Akers said. "Why not?"

For or against, the passage of California's law may have set in motion an unstoppable chain reaction that Florida may have no choice but to join, according to Pappas.

"You look at it and say, 'Well, if California does it, we need to do it in order to be able to stay at the level of high recruiting,' to be able to bring in the best athletes they possibly can in order to be competitive," Pappas said.

The proposal filed for Florida's 2020 legislative session, which starts Jan. 14, still has a long way to go. So far, there's no companion bill filed in the Senate, but that could change in the coming months. 

Capitol News Service contacted the NCAA for comment, but did not receive a reply.