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DeSantis endorses Florida version of California ‘Fair Pay for Play Act’ to compensate college athletes

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California opened a crack in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) long-held success in thwarting efforts to compensate college athletes when state lawmakers adopted a “Fair Pay To Play Act,” which allows students to profit from endorsement deals beginning in 2023.

Florida could blow that crack into a gaping hole if either or two proposed House bills – one pre-filed by a Democrat, one by a Republican – is adopted during the 2020 legislative session, which begins Jan. 14.

The bills received a critical boost when Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed them during a Thursday press conference in Tallahassee, flanked by former Florida State University football players Corey Simon and Nick Maddox.

“I’m here to say that I support the direction that these legislators are going,” DeSantis said. “I think this is something the Legislature should tackle in this coming session.”

House Bill 251 was filed Sept. 30 by House Minority Leader Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, and has been referred to the House Higher Education & Career Readiness Subcommittee and full commerce and education committees.

HB 287 was filed Oct. 4 by Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, and has been referred to the same three House panels.

Both would allow Florida college and university athletes to be compensated through endorsement deals that use their names, images and likenesses and both resemble the California bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September.

“When I look to see good policy ideas, California is usually not the first place I look,” DeSantis said, “but I think California was on the right track saying that there needs to be reform to athletes being able to use at the collegiate level their name, image and likeness.”

Similar bills seeking compensation for college athletes have been filed in a dozen states since California adopted its law, including Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and South Carolina.

A New York lawmaker said he’ll introduce a measure requiring state universities and colleges to pay athletes from a share of annual revenue while a South Carolina representative vows to introduce a 2020 proposal to provide a $5,000-a-year stipend to athletes.

College athletes are considered amateurs, although many receive a scholarship to attend their respective universities. The NCAA, although it has “explored possible means of compensating students for use of their likeness,” blocks athletes from monetizing their college experience. In 2017, for instance, the NCAA declared a University of Central Florida kicker ineligible because he made money off his YouTube channel.

The NCAA maintains California’s law – and similar measures, such as the two Florida bills – threatens the $14 billion collegiate sports industry in the states where they are adopted, and may force it to disqualify California schools from participating in college sports or hosting tournaments.

The NCAA says the law gives California schools an unfair advantage with student athletes opting to attend California school’s for the potential endorsement earnings rather than a university in another state without a “Fair Pay for Play” law.

The PAC-12 Conference said the law would lead to the “professionalization” of college sports and create “significant negative consequences.”

“The NCAA regularly earns more than $1 billion per year, but these student athletes aren’t allowed to accept a bag of groceries,” McGhee said when he introduced HB 251. “Many of these kids aren’t from families that can afford to send them money, but they’re sports superstars and household names. That’s not fair. It’s time we allowed these adults the ability to earn a living for themselves and their families while they make a fortune for others and entertain millions of fans.”

On Thursday, McGhee thanked DeSantis for endorsing a Florida “Fair Pay for Play Act.”

“I thank Gov. DeSantis for showing leadership and support in providing fairness and equality to student athletes,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to Florida joining California in leading the country towards a solution to this long-standing problem. We stand united in bringing uniform change across the nation. To the more than 400,000 student athletes, help is on the way.”

DeSantis acknowledged there would be “issues that need to be addressed” in both bills before he’s sign off, but said he’s “confident that those issues could be addressed in a way that will maintain college athletics as being a really special thing, but also provide the ability for our student-athletes to benefit just like anybody else would be able to benefit.”