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The NCAA Is Targeting Florida And Other States Over A Patchwork Of Laws Governing Pay For Athletes

Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton looks to pass in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Tallahassee, Sept. 25, 2021.
Mark Wallheiser
Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton looks to pass in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Tallahassee, Sept. 25, 2021.

As Congress looks to craft legislation governing college athletes’ ability to cash in on their names, images and likenesses, Florida’s system could come under fire because it allows universities to set their own rules on the types of companies that can sign contracts with athletes.

NCAA President Mark Emmert on Thursday pointed to a “patchwork of state laws” as he testified before a U.S. House panel. Much of Emmert’s appearance centered on requesting that potential federal legislation create uniform rules for athletes in all states to follow.

Part of that consistency, Emmert said, would include setting a uniform standard for the types of businesses that could pay athletes in exchange for endorsing products.

“I think there needs to be ... greater clarity around what are and what are not appropriate sponsors. This is confused by the patchwork of laws we’ve been talking about,” Emmert told members of the Consumer Protection & Commerce Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Florida’s name, image and likeness law was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020 and went into effect in July, opening the floodgates for college athletes to sign contracts with a wide range of businesses.

The law and regulations adopted by the state university system’s Board of Governors don’t prohibit athletes from signing contracts with specific categories of businesses. Instead, those decisions are left up to universities.

Roughly 30 states have laws about college athlete pay, with varying guidelines. The NCAA on June 30 adopted a “uniform interim policy” allowing athletes nationwide to profit, but Emmert at the time said his organization intended to work with Congress in crafting name, image and likeness legislation.

“Some (state rules) allow the schools to determine which sponsors are out of bounds, when they’re inconsistent with the values of the institution,” Emmert said Thursday, describing Florida’s approach. “Others specify specific industries, gambling or alcohol, tobacco, etc., as being out of bounds. Other states have no restrictions whatsoever.”

Emmert told members of the panel that he wants to have an “open, frank discussion and debate” in crafting a bill about what types of companies would be appropriate and what would be off limits.

“My instinct would be to be as liberal as possible in allowing students to explore the market, but on the other hand there are challenges nonetheless that need to be explored,” Emmert said.

The News Service of Florida in July reviewed the name, image and likeness policies of several Florida universities to examine what types of businesses can contract with athletes. Universities varied in what businesses or products were specifically prohibited.

For instance, Florida Gulf Coast University’s rules mandate that athletes “will not be permitted” to sign contracts related to adult entertainment, gambling, alcohol and tobacco and performance-enhancing drugs.

By contrast, the University of Florida’s rules have a more narrow set of prohibited contracts.

“Student-athletes will not be permitted to enter into NIL (name, image and likeness) agreements with gambling/sports wagering vendors or any vendors associated with athletic performance enhancing drugs,” the university’s guidelines say.

Two Florida members of the congressional panel brought some of their priorities for potential federal legislation to Emmert’s attention Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., said he wants to see a “standard guarantee” of health insurance, in addition to a living stipend for all college athletes.

“A lot of athletes are coming from poor families. They don’t have health insurance, some of them. Some of them aren’t graduating. They’re surrounded by great wealth all around them, and in spite of their fame, they are living without the funds needed to live their normal lives,” Soto said.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., raised a concern about international students not being able to take advantage of name, image and likeness laws because of requirements for the type of visa they need.

Emmert responded that the international student issue is a “bit of confusion” that needs to get fixed.

“One of the issues that would need to be addressed in federal legislation is clarification around that. From my own personal perspective, I would like to see a model where those international students could participate in (name, image and likeness) opportunities just like national students do,” Emmert said.