College athlete compensation plan moves forward in Florida House

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A plan that would set ground rules for a system in which Florida college athletes could market themselves easily cleared its first House panel Tuesday.

With few questions and little comment, the House Workforce Development & Tourism Subcommittee approved a bill (PCB WTS 20-01) that would establish a “bill of rights” as college athletes would be able to earn compensation for their “name, image, likeness or persona.”

The proposal, being watched by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, maintains that pay for on-field performance would remain prohibited.

State colleges and universities have not taken a public stand on the House proposal.

“We use and abuse these student-athletes for our benefit as a country,” said Rep. Chip LaMarca, a Lighthouse Point Republican who was one of four lawmakers to file athlete-compensation bills before the legislative session. “There are some stars in the world of athletes. There are also some stars in the world of engineering and agriculture. They benefit off of who they are. I just thought it was time we treat athletes, the vast majority of our athletes not just the superstars, like every other student in our college system and give them the opportunity to see where the free market will take them.”

While LaMarca and others introduced bills that closely resembled a new California law allowing college athletes to hire agents and sign endorsement deals starting in 2023, the new House proposal is geared to Florida schools.

The proposal would prohibit colleges and universities receiving state aid from putting restrictions on athletes earning compensation or receiving professional representation. Schools wouldn’t be able to revoke or reduce scholarships of athletes who earn off-field pay.

Schools also would be required to provide athletes with health and disability insurance, conduct financial-aid and life-skills workshops for athletes in their freshman and junior years and maintain grants-in-aid for up to one academic year after athletes have exhausted athletic eligibility and up to five years for those who become medically ineligible to continue playing.

The proposal also would prohibit college athletes from making personal deals that conflict with the terms of their team contracts.

“From the standpoint of where we are with this bill … I think the ability to go back and keep your eligibility, as far as your grant-in-aid scholarship and being able to finish your education, I think that’s the best we can do,” said LaMarca, who presented the new House bill Tuesday.

Last Thursday, after a draft of the bill was introduced by the House Commerce Committee, the NCAA’s Federal and State Legislation Working Group on name, image and likeness efforts reaffirmed it won’t support a system that makes students paid employees of schools, something Florida isn’t looking to do.

“While we agree that changes in our rules are in order, we are striving to avoid the myriad of potential consequences that could upend a system that has opened doors for millions of young people to earn degrees and pursue dreams, in many cases debt-free,” Big East Conference Commissioner Val Ackerman and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, the working group co-chairs, said in a news release.

Ackerman and Smith, noting that more than 500,000 athletes nationwide receive more than $3.5 billion annually in scholarship support, expressed concern the self-branding rules could be used in recruiting.

The NCAA Board of Governors in October directed the three collegiate sports divisions to consider updates to bylaws and policies no later than January 2021 to address compensation issues.

About the Author:

Jim is a Capitol reporter for the News Service of Florida, providing coverage on issues ranging from transportation and the environment to Legislative and Cabinet politics.