Former Florida football stars praise NIL rights: 'A long time coming' for student-athletes

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

Three former Florida football players who went on to make NFL millions have witnessed the progress college football has made in developing its student-athletes.

They recently toured the $85 million Heavener Football Training Center, then watched a well-run practice under first-year UF coach Billy Napier, who makes an annual salary of $7.1 million.

College football has become a billion-dollar industry, with the Big Ten agreeing to a seven-year, $7 billion media rights deal with Fox, CBS and NBC in August. The SEC struck a 10-year, $3 billion deal with ESPN and ABC that will go into effect in 2024.

With those riches flowing into college athletics, all three former UF players are pleased to see players allowed to make money off their name, image and likeness. The NCAA was pressured into adopting an interim NIL policy in July 2021 after several states, including Florida, passed laws guaranteeing college athletes NIL rights.

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Brandon Siler: College football is 'not an amateur sport'

Coach Urban Meyer celebrates with Florida linebacker Brandon Siler (40) at the end of the the BCS National Championship game in January 2007 in Glendale, Arizona. As for college football today, Siler said recently: “NIL is a long time coming.”

“NIL is a long time coming,” former UF linebacker Brandon Siler said. “It’s been a long time that college football and college sports have been making a lot of money off of us and I think that college sports is not a Little League. It’s not an amateur sport.”

Siler then motioned toward the indoor practice facility and adjoining Heavener Center. “Does this look amateur to you?” he asked. “This is a professional sport that you’re playing when you come to play football.”

As an All-SEC standout at UF under Urban Meyer, Siler said it took hard work and sacrifice for himself and teammates to win a BCS Championship in the 2006 season. Siler played three seasons with the Gators (2005-07) before going on to a five-year NFL career with the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs.

“It was football, football, football and football and class and football and football and football,” Siler said.

Since the Meyer era, the NCAA has more strictly policed time constraints on student-athletes. Student-athlete leadership councils within the SEC also have lobbied for more balance.

“We are bar-none above everybody else when it comes to academics,” Siler said. “I had a 4.2 GPA out of high school, 3.8 when I was here. We are students around here, too. We can be smart and play football, and that’s what it is when you’re here. That’s what we should attract.”

Trey Burton and Kevin Carter wonder 'what if?'

Trey Burton runs for a touchdown during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field on Oct. 30, 2010 in Jacksonville.

Former UF all-purpose back Trey Burton said he’s glad to see players get NIL rights but does not want it to morph into payrolls for college teams or see it used as recruiting inducements.

“The intentions of it were pure,” Burton said. “With anything in life, people take it and run with it and turn it into bad, and so when you have some of what Texas A&M is going through, or the allegations against them and some of the stuff they do, it's not what it’s intended for.”

Burton, who played seven NFL seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, played at UF from 2010-13, before the NCAA even adopted cost of attendance addendums to scholarships.

“I do 100% wholeheartedly think that guys should be able to make money off their name, especially if a school can do it,” Burton said. “So, I wish the way it was done is a little different … Having very little when I was playing, and now looking back at it like ‘this is what I wish would have happened for me’, if I was in that scenario. But I’m happy for the guys to be able to make money off themselves.”

Kevin Carter, a standout defensive end for the Gators, played at UF from 1991-94, before the internet explosion, recruiting rankings and cell phones.

“The kids these days have much more of a command of their own personal brand,” Carter said. “I think back to those days. There was one ESPN and we are all huddled around a television waiting for it to come around on 'SportsCenter' for us to see our one little highlight.”

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Now a college football analyst for the SEC Network, Carter played 14 NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Bucs. He won a Super Bowl with the Rams in 2000.

But it took reaching the NFL for Carter to become a household name. Players today can become household names coming out of high school.

“You don’t have just the element of a kid who is just happy to be here,” Carter said. “That kid already has 20,000 followers. That kid already knows that coming out of high school he’s a five-star athlete and he has a chance to make six or seven figures during his time in college.

“So that is a different animal and different aspect of everything that we didn’t have. We didn’t have camera phones back in those days. There’s a lot that would be different these days. A lot of us can’t imagine what it would be like to play these days. But it’s cool to speculate.”