Clemson and LSU kicked off their national college football championship clash Monday night before an estimated audience of 20 million viewers with ESPN reporting it had sold $115 million in advertising for the three-hour game.
Hours earlier, on the eve of convening their 60-day legislative session, three Florida House committees addressed two proposals to allow college athletes to hire agents, get paid for endorsements and compensated for the use of their “likenesses” – a prospect that enjoys support in a growing number of states, following California’s lead.
Both House Bill 251, filed by House Democratic Leader Rep Kionne McGhee, D-Cutler Bay, and HB 287, sponsored by Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, and their Senate companions, call for a task force to examine college athlete compensation and present lawmakers with a report before next year’s legislative session.
“We’ve literally got half of the Florida House here,” Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, observed after calling the measures “an issue of great importance for the Florida House.”
Notably absent, however, were representatives from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) which, Renner noted, had been invited to the pre-session workshop.
California opened a crack in the NCAA’s long-held success in thwarting efforts to compensate college athletes when state lawmakers in 2019 adopted a "Fair Pay To Play Act," which allows students to profit from endorsement deals beginning in 2023.
Both HB 251 and HB 287 resemble the California bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September. They would allow Florida college and university athletes to be compensated through endorsement deals that use their names, images and likenesses.
College athletes are considered amateurs, although many receive a scholarship to attend their respective universities. The NCAA, although it has “explored possible means of compensating students for use of their likeness,” blocks athletes from monetizing their experiences within the $14 billion collegiate sports industry.
In 2017, for instance, the NCAA declared a University of Central Florida kicker ineligible because he made money off his YouTube channel.
“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 when he introduced HB 251. “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.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who played collegiate baseball at Yale, and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, are among state leaders who have issued statements and comments supporting the proposals.
"I think this is something the Legislature should tackle in this coming session,” DeSantis said in October while flanked by flanked by former Florida State University football players Corey Simon and Nick Maddox.
Congress is also looking into the issue. Florida’s senior U.S. Senator, Republican Marco Rubio in December endorsed the compensation proposals and said he had joined a bipartisan “working group” to delve into the issue.
“I look forward to continuing our work to ensure both athletes and college sports can continue to thrive,” Rubio said. “Having 50 different state laws for compensating student athletes on their name, image, likeness would result in chaos and endless litigation. This bipartisan working group has a tough task ahead of us, but it is clear Congress must address this important issue.”
Despite aggressively opposing the California measure, the NCAA has since backed off, announcing in the fall that it would lift the money-making ban for the 450,000 athletes under its purview.
It has dispassionately endorsed the Florida bills as long as compensation is provided “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”
That’s because the proverbial writing is on the wall, Aspen Institute Editorial Director Jon Solomon said
“Politicians realize this is a winning issue,” Solomon told the politicians of the House Commerce, Education and Judiciary committees during the workshop.
Up to 30 states are pondering similar bills, he said, with legislation introduced in 2019 in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and South Carolina.
Tulane University sports law professor Gabe Feldman said NCAA’s “current rules are more restrictive than necessary” and would not sustain legal scrutiny in a lawsuit.
“Amateurism is dead,” National College Players Association Executive Director Ramogi Huma said.