Athlete pay bill moves closer to passage in House after changes

If successful, the bill would bounce back to the Senate for further approval.

The House approved an amendment Tuesday that would align the Senate’s college athlete pay bill with Rep. Chip LaMarca‘s measure in the House. The bill is now ready for third reading and a final vote in the House.

Monday, the Senate passed its version of the legislation (SB 646) by a 37-2 vote. Rockledge Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield sponsored the legislation.

That bill allows college athletes to make money — including via endorsement deals — off of their name, image or likeness. It would also allow athletes to hire agents and require mandatory financial literacy courses for student athletes.

The House has not approved its version of the bill (HB 7051), pushed by LaMarca and House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee.

Instead, the House took up the now-approved Senate version. But LaMarca’s amendment essentially replaced the Senate language with the House measure.

One significant alignment: LaMarca’s amendment gives the bill an effective date of July 1, 2021.

The bills were originally set to go into effect this year. But the Senate amended its measure to give the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) time to implement its own rules regarding athletes potentially being compensated for their likeness. The House version now aligns with the Senate on that provision.

Those measures still differ, however. For instance, the House version requires colleges to maintain health and disability insurance in case an athlete is injured before going pro.

The Senate had dropped language requiring insurance coverage.

“I stand with Speaker [José] Oliva and believe removing the health insurance provisions leaves our collegiate athletes behind,” LaMarca said in a statement Tuesday.

“If a college or university benefits from the talent and skills of these young women and men, which they do, then it is my strong position that these schools should value the athletes enough to ensure that their health is protected. When a student puts on a school’s jersey, risking injury to their own mind and body, they do so with pride. Yet the current system has failed to value these students in the same way they value playing for their school. Any organization that takes issue with this is self-serving and does not value these young men and women as students and human beings.”

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 bill will now head back to the Senate to see if those differences can be reconciled.

“I urge my colleagues in the Florida Senate to do the right thing, and pass this great legislation,” LaMarca added.

“We must take care of our collegiate athletes in a full and comprehensive way, and not just toss them aside when their value to the institution has expired.”

Tuesday’s discussion wasn’t totally smooth sailing. Republican Rep. Colleen Burton pressed LaMarca on the effects of allowing young athletes to sign potential endorsement deals or team up with an agent.

“My concern is: what protections would there be for young people who are signing contracts?” Burton asked.

LaMarca responded, noting the Department of Business and Professional Regulation would be involved in oversight of licensed agents. He also stated athletes under 18 would have those contracts reviewed by courts.

Republican Rep. Jamie Grant also voiced a recurring concern that the legislation could impact existing contracts between universities and athletic conferences, which bar these types of compensation.

Grant argued that by moving the effective date to 2021, LaMarca and the bill’s supporters were hoping the NCAA would solve these problems on their own.

“Aren’t you asking this body to predict the future by the effective date of the legislation and bet on the fact that the NCAA or the federal government will act before kids lose their eligibility, our universities breach contracts, and significant revenue impacts happen to our athletic departments?” Grant asked.

“I’m not betting on anything and I’m not asking anybody to predict anything,” LaMarca responded.

“What I’m asking us to do is stand behind our student athletes — over 11,000 in the state of Florida — and allow them to enter the free market, just as any other student in that university could do.”

Grant had filed an amendment of his own that is even more far-reaching than LaMarca’s.

It pushes many of the same goals — allowing athletes to be compensated for their likeness and requiring insurance coverage.

But Grant’s bill contains even more revolutionary reforms including establishing a 4-point line in the National Basketball Association and requiring Major League Baseball to reinstate Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame.

While Grant may be in favor of those reforms, his (surely in jest) amendment was withdrawn before introduction.

College athletes are currently considered amateurs, though many receive a scholarship to attend their respective universities. The NCAA, which regulates those athletes, has rules barring students from making money off their likeness.

Florida lawmakers pushed for reforms after California approved a similar bill last year. Those state-level efforts prompted the NCAA to promise a change in its rules governing the practice.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he backs the legislation.

Ryan Nicol

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 [email protected].


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