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House eyes allowing college athletes to cash in

Politicians realize this is a winning issue.

Big-time college sports are big business, and momentum is growing in Florida to pay at least some student athletes.

On Monday, three House committees (Judiciary, Commerce and Education) concurrently convened for a compensation colloquy.

The timing was ironic: just hours before the Division I national championship in college football, the biggest single event in so-called amateur sports in the United States.

Two sets of proposals are in play. The bills would allow athletes to be compensated for endorsements, regardless of prohibitions by the NCAA or other groups.

The Democratic pitch: House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee (HB 251) in the House, Sen. Randolph Bracy (SB 582) in the Senate.

These bills would create the “Florida College System Athlete Name, Image, & Likeness Task Force,” which would examine the issue and create a report next year.

And the GOP version: SB 646 and HB 287, from Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Rep. Chip LaMarca, is essentially the same sans the task force component.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former college baseball player, backs this concept. House Speaker José Oliva likewise recognizes that college sports have become akin to “pro sports.”

Bracy, who played basketball at the College of William & Mary, would like to include revenue-sharing in the discussions, potentially establishing a trust fund that would pay college athletes when they are done playing.

Judiciary chair Paul Renner called this “an issue of great importance for the Florida House,” adding that “we’ve literally got half of the Florida House here.”

Renner noted the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference refused to send a representative to the workshop.

Jon Solomon, an editorial director at the Aspen Institute, noted that California already has laws on the books, with up to 30 other states moving in the same direction.

“Politicians realize this is a winning issue,” Solomon said.

Solomon noted the double bind in college sports marketing: the push of “amateurism,” combined with brand identification from fans and a prostyle marketing budget for the games.

“Being paid to play is different from being paid to do a commercial,” Solomon added.

Gabe Feldman, a Tulane professor of sports law, said that the “current rules are more restrictive than necessary” and are vulnerable to a court challenge.

“The popular video game NCAA Football used these college athletes’ likenesses for many years,” Feldman said. “It didn’t say Tim Tebow’s name on there, but you knew it was Tim Tebow because he was wearing University of Florida colors on the University of Florida team, with number 15, and he’s left-handed and he was six-three (in height) and he played like Tim Tebow.”

Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, noted that use of athletes’ images is “optional” to actually fielding the games, a promotional gimmick.

“Amateurism is dead,” Huma said.

The free-ranging discussion covered a number of issues well beyond the modest scope of the legislation, a sign that wherever these live bills go in the next 60 days, there is room to move on the issue writ large beyond the 2020 Session.

___

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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