With Senate Approval, Florida Inches Closer To Permitting College Athlete Pay

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Tunmise Adeleye and his family moved to Texas from West Africa when he was 2 years old. 

As he grew older, he quickly realized he was one of the best athletes in middle school. 

Now, he is a 17-year-old who will graduate in December from IMG Academy, a boarding school in Bradenton, Florida that focuses on sports training where some of the world’s top athletes have trained. 

As a nationally ranked athlete, Adeleye has offers to play football at powerhouse universities including Georgia, Texas, Indiana, Alabama and Florida. At 6-feet-three-inches and 265 pounds, he is the No. 7 top football recruit in Florida for 2021, according to ESPN’s recruiting database

But the potential to get paid for his brand while playing college sports is enough of an incentive for him to commit to a Florida school, Adeleye said.

He is part of the first generation of college athletes in Florida who could earn money for their name, image and likeness upon entering into endorsement or licensing contracts with companies while playing college sports.

If the proposed Intercollegiate Athlete Compensation and Rights legislation becomes law, every athlete — regardless of gender — who plays any sport at any Florida university will have the right to earn money for their name, image and likeness. 

The Senate voted 37-2 to support its version of the bill, SB 646. The House bill, HB 7051, was temporarily postponed Friday on second reading. 

The bills would only allow the athletes to be paid by an outside third party unaffiliated with the athletes’ universities or colleges. 

Opponents of the proposal argue that college athletes already benefit from scholarship money, a four-year degree, books, clothes and food among other perks, but Adeleye said that’s not enough. 

“They want to go to the NFL. And why do they want to go to the NFL? To provide for people back home, provide for their family,” he said. “Some people have children. A lot of people don’t realize a lot of these kids come from impoverished backgrounds.”

The proposed legislation would prohibit any school from canceling scholarships and financial aid or preventing its athletes or prospective athletes from earning money for their names, images and likenesses. Athletes would not be able to sign a contract that violates any of their team contracts.

The House proposal requires universities to provide health and disability insurance for the athletes. The Senate bill would take effect July 1, 2021 while the House version would take effect a year earlier on July 1, 2020. 

Adeleye and his teammates are watching closely as lawmakers work to finalize the details of the bills in the final days of the legislative session. 

“We talk about it frequently, like ‘Man, these guys are making so much money off of us,’” he said. “When are we going to be able to make money off of what we do every day, which is grind and sweat?”

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said the name on the front of the jersey should be what matters in college sports, not the one on the back. He expressed his concern that the legislation could reverse that tradition.

Some, like Fine, are concerned that money could tear teams and amateurism apart, that athletes could be taken advantage of in their contracts or that controversial sponsorships could arise — perhaps from alcohol or tobacco companies. 

Proponents of the measure said it’s time athletes who have slim financial help from home have an opportunity to support themselves and their families. There’s a history, they said, of universities profiting off of athletes from impoverished or low-income backgrounds.

James Landry, a Florida State University College of Law graduate who co-authored a research article on this topic, said college athletes are currently not allowed to do what every other student can do — earn money for their skills and who they are. 

“You and I can go out and get a sponsorship, become famous on Instagram and have someone pay us. But these players have done this their whole life. This is a whole goal, and unless they go pro, they can’t make money. It needs change,” Landry said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who played college baseball at Yale, announced his support for the legislation in the Capitol alongside the bills’ sponsors in October. 

Jason Traylor, a fullback for the Florida Gators from 2010 to 2011, said he sees the positive and negatives of the bill, but if he were still playing college sports, he would not be as neutral. 

Traylor said he would not have benefited financially from his name, image and likeness if the bill existed while he was on the team, but many of his teammates likely would have during his two years when Florida appeared in bowl games.

He is concerned the bill will divide the few players who make money from the rest of the team.

“Within the locker room, it could be a little dangerous,” Traylor said. 

From his experience, Traylor said if a few athletes on a team sealed large deals, the team mentality could suffer. Smaller teams and women’s sports on campuses were another concern of Traylor’s.

“You take a school like Florida where football is so dominant and everybody loves football and everybody knows the football players, and you start paying your football players, but what’s that going to do to your basketball players or your baseball players or your softball players or your female athletes?” he said. 

Florida is not the only state to consider athletes’ rights to earn money. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in September 2019 the Fair Pay to Play Act, which allows college athletes to earn money from their name, image and likeness. It takes effect in 2023.

Following California’s move, NCAA officials voted in October 2019 to begin the process of updating its bylaws regarding athlete pay with a deadline of January 2021. The Florida Senate proposal would provide enough time for the NCAA to update its policies.

LaMarca said California’s decision was only a start. This bill allows athletes to participate in the free market, he said, like other college students can.

“I think the NCAA has done some great work over the past century. The way they’ve integrated academics and athletics is tremendous,” LaMarca said. “But it is time to get out of the way of our collegiate athletes. These antiquated rules barring students from using their own name, image and likeness limit the student athletes’ ability to achieve their economic freedom.”

Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indian Harbor Beach, said there may be a “significant constitutional problem” with the proposal because it will require universities to violate their individual contracts with the NCAA’s conferences. 

“In my mind, if that’s the case, this is an unconstitutional law because we cannot require our universities to violate the contract and the commitment they’ve made,” Altman said.

LaMarca said based on the NCAA’s January 2021 deadline, Altman’s concern wouldn’t be an issue. 

“I would like to personally, as a supporter of this idea, make sure that they follow through what they’ve said they’re going to do,” LaMarca said. 

Peter Carfagna, University of Miami sports law expert, said new laws in two of the nation’s largest states are putting pressure on the NCAA to look at what he called its “antiquated notion of amateurism.” 

But there needs to be a way to prevent each state from gaining an unfair advantage. Carfagna said he is in favor of a federal, uniform answer for all schools.

“I think for each state, one size should fit all — somehow, some way,” he said.

“I don’t think it would destroy amateurism per se, which is the other big argument, if you had a market rate on it,” Carfagna said. “It would only be the Tim Tebow’s of the world who could have significant name, image and likeness deals.”

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, said his “hatred” for the NCAA is the only reason he voted yes in committee and that he hopes he can vote in favor of the bill when it gets to the House floor. However, he is concerned the bill could lead to negative unintended consequences that can’t be undone.

“You tell me the market rate of someone appearing in a commercial,” Grant said. “And you tell me how we’re going to enforce from the private sector financials what the value of that marketing campaign was. I would suggest we can’t.”

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, said as the mother of sons who played both college and professional sports, the issue is important to her.

Daniels said she often provided food and a place to sleep for three or four of her son’s friends and teammates at a time. To her, it isn’t about making money or becoming famous.

“I believe that these athletes who are superstars on the TV screens, but they’re starving behind the scenes,” Daniels said. “That with all the money these universities make, that these young people should be afforded what this bill is giving them.” 

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This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

About Angela DiMichele

Angela is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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