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'Morality Clause' Could Be Tied To Athlete Pay Plan

Bill sponsor Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, said some universities "had concerned about the types of companies or contracts that might be entered into." NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Bill sponsor Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, said some universities "had concerned about the types of companies or contracts that might be entered into." NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Strip clubs, casinos, breweries and cigarette makers could be benched from a proposal that would let Florida college athletes market themselves off the field.

The House Education Committee on Thursday approved a bill (HB 7051) that would allow athletes to get paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses. But before the vote, sponsor Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, said he’s had discussions with officials at several state schools about branding requirements.

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“There's not anything in the language of this bill, but in speaking to a lot of the universities, the University of Florida comes to mind, Florida Atlantic, both had concerns about the types of companies or contracts that might be entered into, somewhat similar to a morality clause,” LaMarca said. “We would be very supportive of putting something like that in where we want to preserve the nature of collegiate athletes and the process and the university's character as well.”

LaMarca didn’t outline businesses that could be off-limits, and state colleges and universities haven’t taken an official stance on the proposal. But Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican who opposed the proposal, rattled off a number of controversial businesses and suggested the state have more oversight of athletes’ potential sponsorships.

“It concerns me that the bill has made it to this point without anyone saying, ‘You know what, it might be a bad idea to have a Las Vegas casino that actually takes wagers on college basketball games to be able to sponsor a student.’” Fine said. “That might be a bad idea. Or a cigarette company or an alcohol company or some of the other ones that I've listed. I'm shocked that we're at this point and that issue has not been resolved.”

Fine also questioned the impact on team morale if some athletes were able to make more money than others.

“I understand the notion that students are creating a whole lot of value for universities,” Fine said. “But I want to balance that with the team mentality. If a student wants to get sponsorship for name, image and likeness and wants to effectively put it in a bucket that is managed by the university for equal distribution to all of the members of the team, so the team rises or falls as a team --- which is what college sports is all about --- that is something that would be, to me, a middle ground that I could support.”

The House proposal seeks to establish a “bill of rights” for college athletes that would allow them to earn compensation for their “name, image, likeness or persona.” The proposal, being watched by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, would prohibit pay for on-field performance.

Florida and other states began considering such proposals after California passed a law allowing college athletes to hire agents and sign endorsement deals starting in 2023.

Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indialantic, expressed concern that the proposal could affect existing contracts between Florida schools and national conferences.

“If that's the case, this is an unconstitutional law because we cannot require our university to violate a contract and the commitment they've made,” Altman said before voting for the measure. “And these conferences have long term commitments. They have schedules that go far out into the future.”

Rebutting Altman, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, said all the bill would do is require schools to renegotiate with their athletic conferences, such as the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference.

“Let me be perfectly clear, the ACC is not going to drop the University of Miami or Florida State,” Donalds said. “That ain't happening. It's just not. The SEC is not dropping the University of Florida. That's not happening. Conference USA is not dropping UCF (the University of Central Florida). That's not happening. When we pass this measure, what it will do is create the premise upon which they will have to go back into contract negotiation with their conferences and the NCAA.”

The proposal, which next will go before the House Judiciary Committee, 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.

Schools also would be required to provide athletes with health and disability insurance, 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.

The NCAA Board of Governors in October directed the three collegiate sports divisions to consider updates to bylaws and policies no later than January 2021 to address compensation issues.

A Senate version (SB 646), filed by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, is scheduled to make its first appearance Monday before the Senate Education Committee.

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Jim Turner is a reporter for the News Service of Florida.