CORAL GABLES, Florida – The University of Miami has long been able to pitch a brilliant pitch to the students it hopes will play on its athletic teams: outstanding athletic tradition, respected academics, sunny South Florida glamor.
For months, however, coaches in Miami – and every other college in Florida – had a new selling point: play here and, thanks to a new state law, maybe make some money. with your sporting fame.
Florida and four other states are set to allow players to close approval deals starting this summer, and with universities in other states worried about losing rookies, the NCAA is once again moving towards l extension of similar rights to university athletes across the country.
In an interview with the New York Times on Friday, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he would recommend that college athletic governing bodies approve the new rules “before or as close as July 1,” which the new laws are expected. come into effect in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and New Mexico.
The changes together promise to reshape a multi-billion dollar industry and test the NCAA’s multi-generational claims that student-athletes should be amateurs who play mostly for scholarships and that college sports attract fans in part. because the players are not professionals.
“When I was playing college football my priorities were girls, football and then school,” said Mark Richt, who ran football programs in Georgia and Miami before retiring from coaching in 2018. “Now it will be money, girls, football, school.
According to a proposal submitted to NCAA members for months, student-athletes could be paid in exchange for the use of their names, pictures and likenesses by many private companies. The plan, which could go into effect on August 1, would also allow players to earn money through advertisements on their social media accounts.
“We need to get a vote on these rules which are in front of the members now,” Emmert said.
The current proposal would give colleges and universities the power to block certain agreements if they conflict with “existing institutional sponsorship agreements,” meaning an athlete might not be able to strike an endorsement agreement. with Adidas if his college already has one with Nike. . Other possible restrictions include a ban on promoting sports betting and recruiting agents “to gain an opportunity as a professional athlete”.
Emmert and other college athletic leaders recognize, however, that the plans being considered by NCAA officials will not completely resolve the sprawling debate. The proposed guidelines, which could still be amended, differ in some ways from the new state laws, which themselves are far from uniform.
“The inherent problem with the NCAA is that the changes to its house rules that have been drafted don’t go as far as some of the state laws, so you’re still going to have tension around state laws and NCAA rules.” , said Greg Sankey, the commissioner. of the Southeastern Conference, where six of the 14 colleges plan to operate under new statutes from July.
Sankey is among the leaders who have urged Congress to set a coast-to-coast standard for overriding a vagueness of state laws.
In Florida, for example, colleges will be required to hold financial literacy workshops for student-athletes. Colleges in Alabama can prohibit their players from making deals with liquor companies. Georgian law allows for an arrangement in which players can sometimes be forced to share part of their income with other athletes.
Other states, including California, Michigan, and New Jersey, have similar laws that are expected to come into effect in the months and years to come.
The question of whether and how student-athletes should be able to make money has long simmered, especially as many coaches have earned seven-figure salaries, universities have erected stunning sports buildings, and TV rights deals have grossed billions of dollars. The topic exploded in 2019, when California defied NCAA warnings and passed its law, which was slated to come into effect in 2023.
The NCAA’s deliberate pace toward change has created more frustration among college administrators and lawmakers, which has led to more proposals in more states. In an interview last year, Donna E. Shalala, a former University of Miami president turned Democratic congressman, lamented that the NCAA has “no strategy” and “no clear message” in pleading his case with lawmakers in the national capital.
Over a year later, the whirlwind of statutes and potential rules is still prompting the varsity sports industry to seek a solution in Washington. Although proposals are circulating on Capitol Hill, it is far from clear whether a federal bill will be passed in 2021.
“We need a system that is fair to all of our student-athletes and protects student-athlete scholarships in both Olympic and paid sports and does nothing to destroy the college model that has fundamentally provided educational opportunities.” that change life. so many individuals including my dad, my brother, myself, my son, ”said Kevin Warren, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, whose 14 universities are not located in states whose laws have entered in force in July.
The NCAA had scheduled a vote on its proposals in January, but postponed after the Trump administration raised antitrust concerns. Emmert said on Friday that NCAA officials had been in contact with the Justice Department to discuss regulators’ concerns.
His finding that the association should now approve its long overdue rules will ease some nerves in college sports. Sports officials feared that the new state laws alone would create dramatic competitive gaps.
University and marketing executives across the country predict that some players will make some hugely valuable deals, but they expect most opportunities to involve local businesses offering thousands or tens of thousands of dollars – nowhere near. ‘be enough, for example, to buy a sparkling condominium overlooking South Beach.
“I don’t think everyone on the football team would get a shoe deal, let alone when you add over 300 other student-athletes,” said Blake James, the Miami athletic director who has worked with them. state lawmakers to craft Florida law. .
Experts believe the new standards will be particularly important for women, who have a large loyal following as varsity athletes, but who have fewer lucrative opportunities in professional sport. But more generally, the new rules could significantly benefit the thousands of college sports participants who are largely prohibited under NCAA rules from making money like other students can. These restrictions have increasingly angered Democratic and Republican officials.
“We don’t want to change the character of the sport,” said Rep. Chip LaMarca, the Republican architect of the Florida law. “We’re just trying to add the same economic freedom and the same fairness that a typical college student would have.”
The players are ready to seize new opportunities. When Florida lawmakers considered whether to delay the measure they approved last year, Miami quarterback D’Eriq King written on twitter: “Don’t back down now. Let’s take advantage of OUR name image and our likeness. We deserve it! “
Emmert would not discuss the association’s ability to challenge any of the state’s laws in court. He said, however, that he didn’t expect decisions about the industry’s new rules to depend on the outcome of a case the association recently argued in the United States Supreme Court, which examines the scope of the NCAA’s powers.
Complications arise amid widespread uncertainty about the rules, and there is a consensus that they will almost certainly change again, especially if Congress steps in.
Take the example of Miami, one of three Atlantic Coast Conference schools to be covered by new state laws on July 1.
Before and after Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s measure on the Miami campus last June, university officials wondered how to work under the new statute. In December, Miami announced that its football program had partnered with an Alabama company, INFLCR, to help students navigate the thicket of rules and opportunity. Coach Manny Diaz promoted the deal as a basis for players to “build your brand in the heart of one of the world’s most dynamic cities”.
But James, the sporting director, has acknowledged that his staff’s preparations may have a limited lifespan.
“We plan according to the rules we know,” he said recently in his office filled with memories. “The reality is that these rules will change at some point by July 1, 2022.”
He admitted that he probably hadn’t always been anxious to see the types of changes to come. Then again, James said, he once voted on a proposal to limit text messages from coaches to rookies because, in the days before the unlimited plans, students and their families were faced with sky-high phone bills. .
“Now you’re moving fast, thinking we’re not going to text is crazy,” he said with a chuckle. The latest strides towards change also seem inevitable.
“When you look at where social media is and an individual’s ability to really have a brand, yes, we’ve definitely moved on to that place,” James said.
Or as Richt, who is now a television analyst for the ACC Network, put it, “It’s here, so you better adopt it.”