Florida State offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons is, justifiably, proud of what he has done with his name, image and likeness since Florida’s law took effect July 1.
His “Take Timothy to Tally” campaign raised $90,000 to lift Timothy Donovan, a fan who was born with a rare and complicated condition that severely affects multiple parts of his body. His non-profit, Big Man Big Heart, helped the family of a 14-year-old girl with leukemia. He took 30 Tallahassee children to Walmart buy Christmas presents and has a faith, family, football and fishing event planned for dozens more on April 30.
In less than a year, the Clearwater Central Catholic alumnus’ charity has raised more than $200,000.
“Imagine what I could have done if Florida State was allowed to have direct involvement with my name, image and likeness,” Gibbons said.
But FSU can’t. It’s against state law.
Though players can make or raise money off their name, image and likeness through things like endorsements, camps and social media posts, Florida schools have tight restrictions on what they can do to help. That’s because the law Gov. Ron DeSantis signed 20 months ago prohibits schools, athletic departments or booster organizations from causing money “to be directed to” players or recruits.
“The original idea was to have a firewall between the university and the athlete,” said Corey Staniscia, who helped write the legislation as an aide to Rep. Chip LaMarca (R-Lighthouse Point).
That firewall seemed necessary as the state led the charge in one of the most transformative issues in college sports history. University attorneys didn’t want to give athletes legal advice over deals. Politicians and schools were concerned about boosters getting too involved in a newly legal marketplace without guardrails.
Because Florida’s law had the earliest effective date of any state (July 1, 2021), it pushed the NCAA to end its ban on NIL compensation. But being at the forefront has put Florida behind. Some states have less restrictive laws. Others don’t have one at all, which means they only follow the NCAA’s much looser policy.
“We can’t compete with what our competitors in other states can do at this point,” Seminoles athletic director Michael Alford told FSU’s board of trustees last week.
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BYU, for instance, brokered an endorsement deal with a protein bar company that would give every walk-on football player enough money to pay tuition. Cougars associate athletic director Gary Veron told ESPN it was the “greatest professional day of my life.”
It couldn’t happen here.
Florida’s law has also created ambiguity. A company looking to sign more than 100 athletes reached out to Staniscia, now the director of external affairs for the Orlando-based NIL marketplace Dreamfield. Staniscia began talking with athletic directors to see if their schools would approve of this client. One compliance department considered pausing the deal. Was Staniscia’s conversation with the AD an example of a school causing money to be sent toward its players — a violation of state law?
Though schools bring in outside people to educate players on NIL, they’re limited in what they can discuss directly.
“Right now, name, image and likeness inside of our facilities is treated like voodoo,” Gibbons said. “Everyone knows it’s going on. No one talks about it.”
That could change under a bill LaMarca filed in December. HB 939 would allow schools, coaches and booster organizations to “cause compensation to be directed” to a current player without paying them directly. It has not advanced past its first reading on Jan. 11.
The proposed changes would eliminate a competitive disadvantage that threatens to hurt state schools on the recruiting trail — if it hasn’t already. Athletes would be able to work directly with the coaches and administrators they know and trust. Fans looking to book a player appearance could go through the athletic department instead of a third party.
But eliminating the NIL firewall between athletes and their school would have other consequences. There’s a slippery slope between the Seminoles or Gators brokering deals for players and teams paying players directly. At least one major figure thinks that day is probably coming, regardless.
“We’re moving towards the player getting a piece of the pie,” Gators coach Billy Napier said. “And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.”
In the meantime, Florida must figure out what it wants to do about NIL and whether it wants — or can afford — to remain behind.
Gibbons is pushing for the proposed changes because he sees what it could do for his non-profit. What if FSU had been able to give him more support and education as he started his own charity? How much more could he have raised if FSU could have connected him with alumni directly or simply promoted his work on social media?
“I believe,” Gibbons said, “that impact would be incredible.”
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