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Joe Henderson: College athletes ought to be able to make a buck like everyone else

Following California’s lead, Florida lawmaker joins other states in proposing major change to NCAA amateur rules

After California lawmakers recently passed a bill to allow college athletes to receive pay for endorsements, you knew it wouldn’t take long for other states to follow.

And it did not. Florida House Democratic leader Kionne McGhee plans to introduce similar legislation here. South Carolina wants in the game, too.  The State newspaper in Columbia reported about a proposal to allow South Carolina’s colleges to pay $5,000-a-year stipends to athletes.

It also would let athletes earn cash from sponsorships and autograph sales.

New York state has a similar measure moving through legislative committees, and Tennessee is considering the same. How long until Alabama, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania jumps on board?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s house of cards could collapse.

Of course, not everyone is on board with this.

University of Florida icon Tim Tebow (let us bow our heads) is against the idea.

“I feel like I have a little credibility and knowledge about this because when I was at the University of Florida, I think my jersey was one of my top-selling jerseys around the world,” Tebow said recently on ESPN’s First Take.

“It was like Kobe (Bryant), LeBron (James), and I was right behind them, but I didn’t make a dollar from it. Nor did I want to.”

Tebow unquestionably believes everything he said, and his love for the Gators is genuine. Good for him. We all want to grow up to be Tim Tebow someday.

But there is another side to this. I love college sports, but it requires a suspension of disbelief. Fans sacrifice logic for the sake of enjoyment. But for athletes, the stakes can be high.

Perhaps you remember when Duke University basketball star Zion Williamson was injured last February. His Nike shoe blew apart about 30 seconds into a game against North Carolina. He collapsed on the court with a sprained knee.

I’m sure Williamson saw his future pass before his eyes. Dollar bills, just floating out of the building.

The injury was serious enough to keep Williamson out of several games. Fortunately, he didn’t need surgery. He went on to be the No. 1 pick in the National Basketball Association draft.

Everyone exhaled.

Now, shoes are a big deal in college sports.

Major companies like Nike routinely make deals with top coaches. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has one estimated to be worth millions of dollars. Because Duke is a private school, it doesn’t have to disclose the terms.

The New York Times reported, though, that Nike’s deal with the University of North Carolina is worth $90 million over ten years. Head basketball coach Roy Williams receives $300,000 annually for the life of the contract.

Here’s the catch: Athletes at sponsored schools must wear Nike apparel. They are walking billboards for Nike but can’t be paid for that. Had Williamson’s injury required reconstructive surgery, it could have cost him untold millions of dollars.

Yet the NCAA says its, cough, “student”-athletes, can’t profit off their own name while in college. No siree. Coaches and corporations can profit off the athlete’s name, but the actual athlete can’t.

That’s hypocritical at best. It’s delusional at worst.

Naturally, the NCAA responded with a threat. That’s something the NCAA does well. It warned California universities they could face expulsion from post-season events if athletes make endorsement deals.

But imagine Division I college football playoffs without Clemson, Alabama, and Florida. Imagine March Madness without Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

Who would watch? I mean, seriously?


The NCAA should feel the walls closing in and cut its losses.  I don’t think it can win this one. Only a small number of college athletes would be in demand for endorsements anyway. Allowing them to practice capitalism won’t lead to the fall of civilization.

After all, it is their name and face. It’s their future.

They ought to be able to make a buck like everyone else.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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