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Florida Senate OKs college athlete compensation bill, sends to House

Jeffrey Schweers
USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau
Walton Sun

A bill to allow college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness passed the Florida Senate Monday morning and is on its way to the House for final approval.

"This is long overdue," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, noting that Florida's bill follows in the steps of the California Assembly.

"Florida has now stepped up and made a bold statement as well," he added. "I think we send a clear message to the NCAA, the Big 10 and other conferences that we're serious when it comes to doing the right thing for our student athletes."

With little discussion, the Senate approved the bill (SB 646) by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, by a vote of 37-2.

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Sens. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, and Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, voted against the measure. Perry's district includes the University of Florida.

The bill is expected to be taken up by the House this week.

“Today’s action in the Florida Senate gets us one step closer to ensuring our more than 11,000 Florida collegiate athletes have the ability to earn compensation on their name, image, and likeness," said House bill sponsor Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, in a news release.

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The bill has had the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who attended Yale University on a baseball scholarship.

"While so many others profit off of young women and men, these talented athletes have been left behind by a system that is centered on greed," LaMarca added. "Today we are on the way to changing that.

"I look forward to getting this bill across the goal line for final passage in the House this week.”

If Florida approves the measure, it would put a great deal of pressure on the NCAA, said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association.

"Florida is a major college sports state," he said. "This also signals that this is truly a bipartisan effort, not only blue California but Red Florida, too. Florida is a force ... that has the ability to leverage its influence."

The great thing about Florida's bill is its simplicity, Huma said. It doesn't give the NCAA a legal foothold because it doesn't mention the association, like the California law does. "It just says colleges can't prevent these activities," he said.

House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee had also introduced legislation modeled after the California law, but LaMarca's measure became the vehicle on the House side. His bill was tabled Friday, with the expectation that the House would take up the Senate version this week.

Discussion on the Senate was limited to a few comments.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, cautioned that the bill "only benefits the very best players at the larger schools" and didn't acknowledge the efforts of players on smaller teams that don't get the same amount of attention as football, basketball and baseball. He hoped to see a "more equitable distribution when we talk about players pay," but said he would support the bill.

Bracy was among the first to file a measure addressing student athlete pay but Mayfield's bill became the Senate's main measure for this session.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who filed an amendment over the weekend to conduct a study of the bill's impact on historically black colleges, withdrew his amendment and supported the bill as is.

The bills were filed back in October, after the NCAA Board of Governors announced it would draft rules to allow student athletes to profit off their own name, image and likeness in response to California’s passage of a law that would take effect July 2023.

Florida's would take effect July 1, 2021, if approved. Mayfield said she moved the date from 2020 to give the NCAA time to draft rules of its own that would be applied across all 50 states.

Mayfield is also working with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's staff on a congressional draft of a bill that would be applied nationwide. “I am certain they will have those rules in place prior to” that, Mayfield told fellow senators last week.

Mayfield's bill is "as simple as it gets," allowing students to hire agents or lawyers to execute contracts to allow them to make money off their own name and image.

"The only prohibition is that universities cannot use it for recruitment," she said.

Contact Jeff Schweers at jschweers@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.