Buzzer Beater: Florida collegiate athletes still set to reap NIL benefits in 2021

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 10:51 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - One of the more dramatic moments in the final hours of the 2021 Legislative Session came out of left field: A groundbreaking law for college athletes passed last year was nearly derailed thanks to a hidden amendment.

The name, image and likeness law allows NCAA athletes in Florida to market themselves for financial gain. It’s a concept that has become more widely accepted in recent years, but it became the center of controversy on Friday.

The law, as written, was set to start in July this year. Florida would be among the first states to implement the measure. But, by Wednesday night, that starting date had been pushed back to July 2022, all due to one Senator who ended up walking it all back.

In the flurry of the legislative session’s final days, one line in one amendment for a bill on charter schools went overlooked.

But not for long.

“I think it was glossed over. No one was ready for it, no one was prepared,” said Darren Heitner, a Ft. Lauderdale sports entertainment lawyer who helped draft the original legislation.

He says it’s a win for athlete rights that has gained bipartisan support.

Setting Florida back a year, he says, would do major damage.

“If Florida then went from the leader to pushing back to 2022, it would go from a recruiting advantage to disadvantage,” he explained.

So, how did it happen?

Republican Senator Travis Hutson (Palm Coast) authored the amendment. Soon, athletes from across the state took to Twitter, including Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton and head coach Mike Norvell.

Hutson defended the move, arguing the state needed more time to know if the NCAA would punish athletes who take part. But, new reporting shows FSU President and former state legislature John Thrasher connected Hutson with NCAA President Mark Emmert who assured no student would be hurt.

Representative David Smith (R-Winter Springs) in the house, initially in favor, explained the confusion Friday.

“Then we got feedback, thinking that ‘Hey, if you do this, you’re going to hurt those student-athletes.’ That’s why we’re changing it, and I guess I should have been more clear on that,” he said.

A delay of game avoided just before the buzzer.

This saga is also connected to the controversial trans-athlete amendment passed this week. The House added an amendment that would prevent schools from using state dollars to pay NCAA membership should the organization boycott the state for any reason, though most schools use non-state funds for that purpose.

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