Historic summer ahead for Florida State, Florida and others with Name Image Likeness (NIL) legislation kicking in

Tom D'Angelo
Palm Beach Post
UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel shown with Twitter handle on uniform during Saturday's spring game. [UCF Twitter]

The summer of 2020 brought important and impactful changes in college sports.

Athletes across the country felt empowered and let their voices be heard. They fought to have social justice messages on their uniforms and voter registration rallies were held on campuses, many set up by leaders of their respective sports.

And all while negotiating the challenges brought on by a global pandemic.

But 2020 was just the appetizer. We are in a time in which college sports will undergo industry-altering, groundbreaking changes. This summer, proposed rules that allow college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) will kick in with the state of Florida a trailblazer when it came to seeing that its college athletes get paid.

More:NCAA’s decision on NIL issue brought on by states like Florida moving ahead with own bills

And with the state’s Intercollegiate Athlete Compensation and Rights bill going into effect July 1, universities are being proactive even as the NCAA awaits the outcome of a Supreme Court case before its final vote and wording on NIL. The NCAA prefers a uniform national law that would apply in all 50 states.

State schools ahead of curve

Still, that is not stopping schools in our state from getting out in front of the inevitable. While UCF was allowing its football players to display their social media handles on their jersey during last weekend’s spring game, Florida State announced the creation of a program that allows its athletes to capitalize on NIL legislation.

Already, Miami unveiled its program called "Momentum" and Florida launched "Gator Made." Both are to help athletes take advantage of NIL opportunities through companies that provide a better understanding of how to build their brand, primarily through the use of social media, to better attract profitable endorsement opportunities.

This has become college sports’ new arms race. It's schools scrambling to get ahead to provide the greatest opportunities for their athletes to start building their bank accounts by finally benefitting from a college athletics industry that generates nearly $20 billion every year.  

And it does not matter if you’re the starting quarterback on the football team, the setter on the volleyball team, or the shortstop on the softball team, athletes from every sport will be looking for a way to cash in.

“This is the new age of personal branding,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said Saturday when asked about his players displaying their Twitter handles in the same space that for the last eight months was being used to promote social justice messages.

“We’re going to embrace it within the NCAA rules. That’s who we are and that’s who we’re going to be. You look at 322,000 living alumni and the average age is 36, 72,000 (students) and they’re all on Twitter. Some of these big schools, the average age of their alumni is 65 and they’re all on Facebook. We’ve got a big advantage there.”

Surely, players such as UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel understand what growing their social media following could mean. Lakers forward LeBron James, who has 59.7 million Instagram followers, earns more than $300,000 per sponsored Instagram post. Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tops all NFL players with $59,700 per sponsored post to his 14.3 million Instagram followers.

Nobody in college athletics is in that company, which means there's room to grow. Gabriel has about 27,000 combined Instagram and Twitter followers. Leading the pack among the projected starting quarterbacks in the state is FSU’s McKenzie Milton with 92,700 combined followers. Florida’s Emory Jones has 82,400. Miami’s D’Eriq King has 60,000.

Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) looks to pass during last Saturday's Garnet and Gold Spring Game in Tallahassee.

FiveThirtyEight estimated a year ago that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, with more than 578,000 Instagram and Twitter followers at that time, could have earned $11,371 per sponsored post. While Lawrence may have missed out by a year, he'll be fine. The Jaguars are poised to make Lawrence the first overall pick in the NFL Draft later this month.

FSU offers courses on NIL topics

Maximizing these opportunities is why FSU athletics recently launched Apex, a comprehensive, multi-tiered program designed to allow athletes to capitalize on NIL legislation. The program includes a new partnership with Influencer (INFLCR), which provides resources and brand-building strategies. Miami also is partnering with INFLCR.

FSU will offer two for-credit academic courses that include instruction on NIL-related topics. Athletic Director David Coburn said he believes FSU is the only Power Five school that will offer two for-credit courses in NIL education.

“We will provide a complete educational process from which our student-athletes will benefit immediately and throughout their lives," Coburn said.

Apex’s objective is to allow all 500 FSU athletes to maximize the Seminoles’ national brand and put them in the optimal position to capitalize on the benefits of the NIL bill in Florida.

According to FSU, its football account has more followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook than any school in the state and the second-most in the ACC with more than 1.3 million combined. Its men’s and women’s basketball programs have the most Twitter followers of any school in Florida.

When the state of Florida bill was passed in March 2020, Chip LaMarca, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, said Florida “created the standard for other states to follow.” The bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis three months later.

Now, six states have followed Florida’s lead and passed NIL laws and 30 others have introduced bills.

That means hundreds of universities will be forced to step up their social media and education game - or be left behind when it comes to college athletics’ new arms race.