Darren Heitner woke up Wednesday morning knowing full well that, in two short months, Florida college athletes would start profiting from their name, image and likeness.
He went to bed Wednesday night feeling less confident in that pending development.
Heitner, a University of Florida law professor who helped author Florida’s athlete compensation bill, was, like many, stunned to learn Wednesday evening that the effective date of the NIL bill would potentially be delayed by a year. The Florida state legislature on Wednesday passed an amendment to an unrelated charter school bill featuring language that changes the Florida NIL law’s effective date from July 1 of this year to July 1, 2022.
The bill becomes law as soon as governor Ron DeSantis signs it.
“It’s devastating. It’s shocking. I’m flabbergasted,” Heitner tells Sports Illustrated on Thursday morning.
The news sparked outrage from some of the state’s highest profile college athletes, including quarterbacks at both Florida State (McKenzie Milton) and Miami (D’Eriq King), who lambasted lawmakers in social media posts.
They tagged DeSantis, a proponent of NIL, encouraging him to veto the bill when it arrives at his desk. FSU football coach Mike Norvell, Florida coach Dan Mullen and Miami coach Manny Diaz also weighed in on Thursday afternoon, with Diaz calling it "unacceptable."
The amendment shocked those around college sports and across Florida. A leader in the state NIL movement, Florida passed its NIL bill last spring, and DeSantis enthusiastically signed it into law last June, granting athletes the right to earn money from endorsement and commercial deals. The bill’s original effective date created a sweeping trend across the country as dozens of states pushed through athlete compensation bills, some trying to match Florida’s July 1 effective date and avoid being at a recruiting disadvantage.
At least three states (Mississippi, New Mexico and Alabama) have passed NIL laws that will take effect this July, and three more (Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina) have passed bills that await their governor’s signature. Six other states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska and New Jersey, have previously passed laws that take effect starting in 2022.
Congress is contemplating a variety of federal NIL proposals that would create one unifying law, though movement on such isn’t expected by July 1. In the meantime, the NCAA is prepared to pass its own NIL legislation this summer. The governing body is awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court on the NCAA v. Alston case.
“Now we have to rely on the federal government to pass something in order for us to be on a level playing field with states who were motivated by us,” Heitner says. “It’s an act of potentially grave consequence and seems to go against what the governor hoped for. I’m concerned about the fact we may see athletes not transfer into Florida but transfer out of Florida.”
Critics of the amendment describe it as a nifty political maneuver by high-ranking members of the Florida legislature, burying the NIL date change in a clutter of alterations to legislation governing charter schools, two days before the Florida legislative session ends.
The amendment was introduced in the Florida Senate by Sen. Travis Hutson on Wednesday around 2:30 p.m. Six hours later, it passed both chambers without any real debate over the two consequential lines in the 71-page tome changing the NIL law effective date.
Heitner and others contend that the NIL language was so buried that many lawmakers weren’t aware it even existed. Hidden among the amendment’s 20,000 words, on the seventh line of Page 66, are the two lines, the first citing Florida’s NIL law and the second changing the effective date.
Effective upon this act becoming a law, section of chapter 2020–28, Laws of Florida, is amended to read:
This act shall take effect July 1, 2022
In an interview on Thursday morning, Hutson says leaders of each of Florida’s chambers agreed to insert the NIL change into the amendment based on information from the Florida legislature’s education staff. The staff alerted lawmakers that the NCAA could punish Florida athletes for using a state law that, in some cases, differs from impending NCAA rules.
“We did not want our student athletes, if this law went into effect, to start profiting off NIL and potentially lose scholarships from the NCAA,” Hutson says. “We decided to do a one-year hold. It was an abundance of caution. We want our kids to profit from the NIL and that’s something we’re passionate about, but not at the chance they could lose the right to play.”
However, NCAA president Mark Emmert told a group of athletes earlier this month that he would not punish athletes who earn NIL compensation by following their state law.
“If he puts something on paper, that would give us relief,” Hutson says.
The legislative author of the NIL bill, Florida Rep. Chip LaMarca, expressed his frustration in a statement to SI.
“I could not be more disappointed with the actions taken yesterday,” he says. “Not only did our legislature go back and revive a questionable policy, but against all odds the Florida Senate stripped Florida of our leadership role that will empower student athletes to earn a living off their talent. In one move, the Florida Legislature made our state both anti-economic freedom and anti-student athlete.”
Several months ago, there was a push from Florida’s universities and state lawmakers to delay the NIL effective date to allow the NCAA, and potentially Congress, to create a universal policy. But any possibility of delay was halted, it seemed, after a handful of states passed bills to take effect in July.
In fact, earlier this month during a news conference, the Florida Speaker of the House, Chris Sprowls, claimed the state would not bend to the will of the NCAA and others.
“The state of Florida is not going to be bullied by any corporate actor,” he said. “It will not impact what we do in the state of Florida.”
And then came Wednesday. Hutson’s amendment was followed by an amendment from the Florida House that banned transgender athletes from participating in women’s and girls sports. A separate transgender athlete bill failed in the Senate earlier this spring, but was, at the last minute, lumped into the charter school bill.
Before the bill’s passage, much of the debate was spent on the transgender amendment rather than the two lines about NIL. Heitner describes it as a “smorgasbord” of amendments where NIL was forgotten, caught “somewhere in the middle.”
Though DeSantis is a proponent of NIL, he’s in a tricky situation. The governor would have to veto the legislation about charter schools, an issue he championed. He’s unable to strike lines from the bill as there is no line-item veto possible.
So will he veto? Who knows? It’s too tough to predict, Heitner says.
What is known: Florida, once the leader in the NIL race, seems to be falling behind.
“I’ve heard the word railroaded used time and time again,” Heitner says. “It was out of left field.”
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