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Athlete pay plan might get ‘morality clause’

The bill also includes insurance requirements to protect students.

The House Education Committee is advancing a measure allowing college athletes to generate revenue from their likeness. That leaves one more stop before the bill is ready for the House floor.

The House Workforce Development and Tourism Subcommittee generated the bill (HB 7051.) That panel approved the bill in late January.

Thursday’s committee meeting saw a pair of amendments added to the bill. One mandated that insurance provided to athletes must be paid by either the college or an institution of which that university is a member.

The second amendment dealt with a provision requiring those athletes to go through a financial literacy course. That five-hour course would be mandated at the beginning of an athlete’s first and third academic years.

If a college contracts with a financial institution to teach the course, the amendment states the institution may not solicit business from those athletes by including marketing materials within the workshop.

Rep. Chip LaMarca is shepherding the bill. He and House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee each introduced their own versions of the bill before the start of Session.

The bill heard Thursday is a third version that emerged after a mid-January meeting where members from a trio of House committees discussed the issue at a joint workshop.

The legislation does not allow universities to pay athletes directly. But those athletes can make money off their likeness by, for instance, securing an endorsement deal.

Gov. Ron DeSantis supports the effort.

There could be some changes in store for the plan, however. Before the vote, LaMarca said he has had discussions with officials at several state schools about branding requirements.

“There’s not anything in the language of this bill, but in speaking to a lot of the universities, the University of Florida comes to mind, Florida Atlantic, both had concerns about the types of companies or contracts that might be entered into, somewhat similar to a morality clause,” LaMarca said.

“We would be very supportive of putting something like that in where we want to preserve the nature of collegiate athletes and the process and the university’s character as well.”

LaMarca didn’t outline businesses that could be off-limits, and state colleges and universities haven’t taken an official stance on the proposal. But Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican who opposed the proposal, rattled off a number of controversial businesses and suggested the state have more oversight of athletes’ potential sponsorships.

“It concerns me that the bill has made it to this point without anyone saying, ‘You know what, it might be a bad idea to have a Las Vegas casino that actually takes wagers on college basketball games to be able to sponsor a student.’” Fine said. “That might be a bad idea. Or a cigarette company or an alcohol company or some of the other ones that I’ve listed. I’m shocked that we’re at this point and that issue has not been resolved.”

Fine also questioned the impact on team morale if some athletes were able to make more money than others.

“I understand the notion that students are creating a whole lot of value for universities,” Fine said. “But I want to balance that with the team mentality. If a student wants to get sponsorship for name, image and likeness and wants to effectively put it in a bucket that is managed by the university for equal distribution to all of the members of the team, so the team rises or falls as a team — which is what college sports is all about — that is something that would be, to me, a middle ground that I could support.”

Indialantic Republican Rep. Thad Altman expressed concern that the proposal could affect existing contracts between Florida schools and national conferences.

“If that’s the case, this is an unconstitutional law because we cannot require our university to violate a contract and the commitment they’ve made,” Altman said before voting for the measure. “And these conferences have long term commitments. They have schedules that go far out into the future.”

Rebutting Altman, Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds said all the bill would do is require schools to renegotiate with their athletic conferences, such as the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference.

“Let me be perfectly clear, the ACC is not going to drop the University of Miami or Florida State,” Donalds said. “That ain’t happening. It’s just not. The SEC is not dropping the University of Florida. That’s not happening. Conference USA is not dropping UCF (the University of Central Florida). That’s not happening. When we pass this measure, what it will do is create the premise upon which they will have to go back into contract negotiation with their conferences and the NCAA.”

College athletes are currently considered amateurs by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), though some players receive a scholarship to attend their respective universities.

But the NCAA’s current compensation rules are restrictive. They block athletes from making money from autographs. In 2017, a kicker from the University of Central Florida was also declared ineligible for earning money from his YouTube channel.

Fewer than 2% of college athletes make it to the pros where they can cash in, according to the NCAA’s own stats. And all risk injury before even getting that far.

The measure would require colleges to maintain health and disability insurance in the event an athlete is injured before going pro.

That disability insurance “must provide at least $400 per month for the first 12 months of total disability and $2,700 per month for each month of total disability beyond the first 12 months of total disability; at least $270 per month for the first 12 months of partial disability and $1,800 per month for each month of partial disability beyond the first 12 months of partial disability; and a death benefit of at least $25,000.”

The bill would also mandate universities to offer a grant for an injured athlete who may have received an athletic scholarship but can no longer perform on the field.

California became the first state to allow athletes to be compensated for their likeness through legislation signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The NCAA Board of Governors responded by moving forward with a proposal to allow athletes to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.” So far the details of that rule have not been finalized, leaving Florida lawmakers to continue their efforts.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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