Florida punts on new rules for paying student athletes

Florida State University's football team takes the field before a Nov. 2, 2019 game against the University of Miami. Mark Wallheiser/AP Photo

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers on Wednesday night quietly delayed the implementation of what would have been a landmark policy clearing the way for college athletes across the state to profit from their names, images and likenesses.

With the massive rule change set to take hold July 1, the Senate slipped a one-year postponement into a sweeping education bill that bans transgender athletes from playing girls’ and women’s sports. The move, which received next to no acknowledgment from the Legislature and could be seen as offering an olive branch to the NCAA, immediately drew sharp rebukes from student athletes across Florida calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the legislation.

“Please help us understand the reasoning in passing this amendment,” McKenzie Milton, a quarterback at Florida State University, wrote in a tweet to lawmakers. “Makes no sense as to why you would want to continue to handcuff these athletes.”

Florida is one of several states that pursued laws allowing college athletes to profit from their publicity rights, efforts that eventually helped spur the NCAA to reverse course on its longstanding stance on amateurism. The NCAA, however, earlier this year delayed its plans to enact name, image and likeness rules for its roughly 1,200 member schools and athletic conferences.

For other states such as California, where the measures are slated to take effect in 2023, the NCAA’s holding pattern doesn’t create a substantial time crunch. But Florida would be mere months away from being the first and only state enacting the policy that rides against the NCAA without changing its implementation timeline in law.

To that end, universities and athletes in the Sunshine State have been gearing up to capitalize on the new policies for name, image and likeness. Schools in Florida and beyond have attempted to use the shift as a tool for recruiting athletes.

Florida State University, for example, launched an entire program dedicated to helping student athletes enhance their brand. It includes two for-credit courses: one on mapping professional drafts, Olympic sports, graduate school, the workforce and entrepreneurism, and another surrounding brand management and social analytics.

“We think we have a pretty clear path here in Florida and we’re going to move ahead,” David Coburn, FSU’s athletic director, said in a recent radio appearance. “We think it’s going to be a real advantage for our student athletes.”

The wide-ranging legislation passed Wednesday night adds another wrinkle to the already thorny debate which could subject Florida to a backlash after the GOP-controlled Legislature resurrected a policy banning transgender athletes in women sports on short notice and rammed it through the House and Senate in just a few hours.

Florida lawmakers have been known to bash the NCAA, from introducing the athlete pay proposal to pushing back on the association’s support for transgender athletes. Yet by extending the start date for the law, Florida is delivering a break to the NCAA.

If DeSantis were to veto the sweeping piece of legislation, the Republican governor would simultaneously undo numerous policies touching charter schools and student retention due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Don’t back down now,” D'Eriq King, a quarterback with the University of Miami, wrote in a tweet. “Let us profit off OUR name image and likeness. We deserve it!”