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Senators Cautiously Move Forward With Athlete Pay

Despite concerns about college sports in Florida being harmed, a proposal that would allow student-athletes to market themselves off the field is now moving forward in the Senate and House.

The Senate Education Committee on Monday unanimously backed a bill (SB 646), filed by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, that is similar to a House measure (HB 7051). The House bill has been characterized as a “bill of rights” for Florida college athletes in outlining how they can earn compensation for their “name, image, likeness or persona.”

Mayfield’s proposal was one of four bills filed for this year’s legislative session after California passed a law in 2019 that would allow college athletes to hire agents and sign endorsement deals starting in 2023.

But Mayfield’s bill drew concerns from several Republicans on the Education Committee. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the proposal would help sports agents but said he could not see how it would improve the college system.

“It'll teach people to put themselves above the teams that they are a part of,” Simmons said. “It will send all the wrong messages to those who don't make it into professional sports ultimately. This is just one more step and a problem that continues to destroy the concept of college sports.”

Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican whose district includes the University of Florida, suggested waiting to implement the bill until after the National Collegiate Athletic Association completes a review of the compensation issue. He noted that many college athletes come out of school with educations and receive scholarships that mean they don’t have as much student-loan debt as non-athletes.

“I do think students get a lot,” Perry said. “I've got two kids in college. It is expensive. (But) the kids (athletes) get an education. They get housing, they get food, but the biggest thing they get is an education.”

Perry also reiterated concerns that had been brought up in the House about the proposal affecting athletic conference ties for Florida universities and colleges.

Mayfield said she’s open to extending the proposed July 1 implementation date of the bill and said it was her understanding that the NCAA and conference associations wouldn’t be impacted.

However, she added that states have to put pressure on the NCAA if compensation changes are desired.

“Unless you start pushing the envelope, nobody pays attention to it,” Mayfield said after the meeting. “Nobody's going to get engaged. So, you have to start at some point just to get the conversation going and start working from there.”

After the California law was signed and Gov. Ron DeSantis announced support for the legislative efforts in Florida, the NCAA Board of Governors in October directed its three collegiate sports divisions to consider updates to bylaws and policies, with a January 2021 deadline to address compensation issues.

The House Education Committee last week approved the House version of Mayfield’s bill. The measure is slated to go before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and then could go to the full House.

Mayfield’s proposal includes most of the House version, which would prohibit colleges and universities receiving state aid from putting restrictions on athletes earning compensation or receiving professional representation. Schools wouldn’t be able to revoke or reduce scholarships of athletes who earn off-field pay.

Mayfield’s bill doesn’t include House provisions that would require schools to provide athletes with health and disability insurance, an issue she said after the meeting could be addressed as the bill advances.

The House bill would require schools to conduct financial-aid and life-skills workshops for athletes in their freshman and junior years and maintain grants-in-aid for up to one academic year after athletes have exhausted athletic eligibility and up to five years for those who become medically ineligible to continue playing.

The proposal also would prohibit college athletes from making personal deals that conflict with the terms of their team contracts.

Last week, House sponsor Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, said talks were underway with officials at several state schools to include a provision about prohibiting some businesses, such as casinos and strip clubs, from participating in the student-athlete marketing.

Mayfield said the “morality clause” issue may be a matter for each school to address individually.

Perry wondered if that would create an unbalanced playing field.

“So, if one school wanted to compete unfairly,” Perry said, “we could have a school that says, ‘Yeah, you can represent the Hard Rock Casino,’ but another says, ‘No, that’s morality.’”

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.