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What we do and don’t know about name, image, likeness regulations at smaller colleges

Much like their Division I counterparts, state community and junior colleges are still unsure how Florida’s NIL bill will impact their athletes.
One of the top junior college players in 2020-21, Tallahassee Community College's El Ellis may already have the clout to profit off his name, image and likeness before playing a game for Louisville. He also has amassed a healthy number of followers on his social media accounts.
One of the top junior college players in 2020-21, Tallahassee Community College's El Ellis may already have the clout to profit off his name, image and likeness before playing a game for Louisville. He also has amassed a healthy number of followers on his social media accounts. [ Instagram ]
Published Jun. 27

When people think of student-athletes profiting off their name, image and likeness, schools like Tallahassee Community College don’t immediately come to mind.

But athletes like former Tallahassee CC Eagle El Ellis could make a bundle by monetizing their social media pages. One of the country’s top junior college basketball players in 2020-21, Ellis’ Instagram post announcing his commitment to Louisville sparked 3,988 likes and 540 comments. His verified account has more than 9,200 followers. His most popular video received almost 19,000 views.

Most of the buzz around Florida’s NIL legislation has been generated by the possibilities for athletes who attend Division I universities. But players at Florida College System schools like Tallahassee CC, Hillsborough Community College and Pasco-Hernando State College can also benefit from the state’s new law.

While the bill was signed more than a year ago, its details still seem fuzzy.

“(There are probably) still as many unknowns as knowns for us right now,” Tallahassee CC athletic director Rob Cheney said.

Here are some of the questions community and junior college athletic directors less than a week before the law’s effective date Thursday:

What organizations qualify as ones that “support” a school?

One section of the bill says athletes may not enter into agreements with organizations that conflict with their school’s current deals. For example, if John Doe goes to a Nike school, he can’t endorse brand competitors, such as Adidas or Under Armour.

Another section says athletes can’t sign deals with organizations that support the schools they go to. This could mean that John Doe can’t sign a deal with Nike, Adidas or Under Armour.

“This could potentially be a recruiting violation, telling a recruit that we will get a compensation deal for him/her and have it be from a school sponsor,” College of Central Florida athletic director Bob Zelinski wrote in an email.

Cheney, however, interprets the law differently. He doesn’t see companies like Nike or Adidas as organizations that “support the school.” So, while an athlete at a Nike college couldn’t sign with Adidas, that doesn’t necessarily mean Nike deals are also off the table.

How will athletes know their worth?

Another section of the bill states that athletes should be paid fair market value for their services. But since representation (whether a lawyer or agent) is optional and must be paid for out of pocket, athletes are largely on their own.

This is an even greater disadvantage for two-year colleges.

“Unfortunately, our resources are limited,” Cheney wrote, “so it’s unlikely any of us would be able to develop a robust NIL education program, which might provide some insight to this question.”

How are the financial literacy requirements fulfilled?

College athletes must take five hours of financial literacy and life skills classes, orientation sessions and/or workshops at the beginning of their first and third years. This requirement can also be fulfilled by “college success” courses that already exist at Florida schools, but no one knows for certain which ones. It is likely that most schools will exceed the five-hour minimum by going over some of the material at athlete orientation and enrolling athletes in a three credit-hour college success course, Cheney said.

At a June 10 Florida Board of Education meeting, Florida College System Chancellor Kathy Hebda said that all athletes attending Florida community or junior colleges must take these courses whether they are profiting or planning to profit off their name, image and likeness. She also said these classes would be free.

Zelinski said colleges are still waiting for additional guidance from the Florida Department of Education on this requirement. Do all athletes have to take these courses, or just the ones on scholarship? Will credit for these courses follow athletes who transfer to another institution?

How will recruits be educated?

At the June 10 meeting, Hebda said colleges are responsible for telling recruits how they’ll enforce NIL legislation. This way, athletes know exactly what they’re getting into before signing their letters of intent.

At Ocala’s College of Central Florida, recruits will be given an NIL contract listing their responsibilities for making money off themselves. Florida SouthWestern State College expects NIL to impact men’s basketball more than any other sport, so logistics will be discussed at student-athlete orientation rather than throughout the recruiting cycle, spokesperson Roy Allen said. Schools like Tallahassee CC are still figuring this out.

How long are deals allowed to last?

Because many athletes use community colleges as a stepping stone to Division I sports, those schools must figure out what happens to an athlete’s deals if they transfer. There isn’t a concrete answer.

Zelinski said College of Central Florida is waiting for more information from the state. Allen interprets the law as allowing athletes to endorse products regardless of when or where they reached an agreement so long as they’re still playing collegiate sports. Cheney’s understanding is that a Tallahassee CC athlete’s deals must end when they leave that school.

“The law already specifies that any contract may not extend beyond her or his participation in an athletic program at a postsecondary educational institution,” a Department of Education spokesperson wrote in an email.

But the state did not specify whether this means deals must end when an athlete is done playing sports at a particular school or when they’re done playing at any school.