TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A proposal that would allow college athletes to market themselves and get paid off the field is ready to go before the Florida House.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday supported the proposal (HB 7051), which outlines how athletes playing for Florida colleges and universities could earn compensation for their “name, image, likeness or persona.”
“Most of these collegiate athletes, male and female, are only on partial or even no scholarship with their athletic departments, but they're still bound by these eligibility rights,” said bill sponsor Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point. “I think the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) has done some great work over the past century. The way they've integrated academics and athletics is tremendous. But it is time to get out of the way of our collegiate athletes.”
Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, said he voted for the bill Wednesday because of his “hatred” for the NCAA. But he expressed concerns that the proposal could affect the relationship between schools and their athletic conferences, such as the University of Florida’s contract with the Southeastern Conference and the conference’s TV network.
Grant also expressed concerns about unscrupulous agents who wouldn’t register with the state as required by the proposed law.
“I'm much more worried about the unlicensed, unregistered individual who's hanging around an athletic complex trying to poach kids,” Grant said. “And now for the first time, we're going to actually let them sign a legally binding contract.”
Grant favored providing students a stipend and offering insurance as ways to “create a framework where we maintain a level of amateurism rather than getting to a place where we're going to auction these kids off like chattel.”
LaMarca said agents would have to register with the state and be unaffiliated with the schools. LaMarca added that backers of the bill have continued discussions with schools and athletic departments to erase fears about impacts on conference contracts.
“Were trying to eliminate legal conflicts and expose students to the economic free market,” LaMarca said.
Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, said many college athletes are broke because of NCAA restrictions.
“If a college coach can make $5 (million) or $6 million dollars, and a student-athlete can’t put food on the table in the summertime, something does not make sense.” Alexander said.
Representatives of the NCAA and Florida colleges and universities have not addressed legislative committees about the proposal. But NCAA President Mark Emmert appeared before Congress on Tuesday to address athlete compensation.
LaMarca was one of four lawmakers to file bills for this year’s legislative session after California passed a law in 2019 that would allow college athletes to hire agents and sign endorsement deals starting in 2023.
After the California law was signed and Gov. Ron DeSantis announced support for similar legislative efforts in Florida, the NCAA Board of Governors in October directed its three collegiate sports divisions to consider updates to bylaws and policies, with a January 2021 deadline to address compensation issues.
While LaMarca’s bill is now ready to go before the full House, a similar Senate measure (SB 646) was approved this week by the Senate Education Committee. It would need to clear two more committees before it could go to the full Senate.
Lawmakers 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.
Unlike the Senate version, the House includes provisions to require schools to provide athletes with health and disability insurance.
The House bill also would require schools to 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 team contracts.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.