The NCAA did the right thing this week by moving into the 21st century and agreeing that college athletes should be able to make money from the use of their names and images. If a fan buys a University of Florida jersey with the quarterback’s name on the back, the quarterback should be paid something. But let’s be clear: The NCAA is only responding to pressure from state lawmakers, and Florida should not let up.
For years, the NCAA has resisted demands that college athletes receive some compensation for their time and effort. It persisted with the quaint notion that scholarships and the glory of representing your school should be enough. Never mind that college sports is an industry worth billions, or the reality that athletes in major sports at top-tier schools are essentially working full-time jobs. It’s big business, and everyone is getting a cut of the cash except the athletes putting in the time and often sacrificing their bodies.
California state lawmakers cranked up the pressure by passing legislation called the Fair Pay to Play Act that would allow college athletes in that state to be paid for the use of their names and likeness starting in 2023. That triggered the predictable threat from the NCAA to ban those schools from competing in national championships when the law takes effect. So UCLA could not play in the Final Four? Come on.
Fortunately, Florida and other states are not backing down. Gov. Ron DeSantis supports legislation in Florida that would be similar to California’s new law. The effort has bipartisan support, with bills already filed by Reps. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, and Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge. Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, also is expected to sponsor legislation. The governor points out other college students have control over the use of their names and likeness for commercial purposes, and there is no reason athletes should not have the same control. "I think this is going to have legs,'' DeSantis told reporters this week.
It already does, judging by the NCAA’s abrupt change of course this week. There are plenty of issues to work out. It would be one thing for a star basketball player to get paid something for uniforms sold with his or her name on the back, or for modest endorsements of the local pizza joint just off campus. But there also could be a risk of corruption if shoe companies throw millions at particular players, or a car dealer provides a new sports car in return for a television commercial. There also are legitimate questions about whether this would harm smaller schools that are not in major media markets, where the star athletes are unlikely to make money on endorsements or from shirts with their pictures on them.
There also remain plenty of skeptics about entering this new era. Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told the Times editorial board this week he is concerned about blurring the lines between amateur and professional athletes. But it’s unlikely the majority of college athletes will profit from the use of their names or likeness, and the bigger issue -- modest checks paid by the university directly to student athletes -- is not yet on the table. That day is coming.
This is a modest first step to treat athletes more fairly and appropriately allow them to have a modest slice of a much larger revenue pie they are generating. Florida should join California and keep the pressure on the NCAA by passing legislation that would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their name and likeness.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.