The arc of justice for student-athletes is bending toward greater rights and recognition, and Florida State University just provided a much needed push in the right direction.
If Penn State had ears to hear and eyes to see, it would consider following FSU’s lead.
In response to the Intercollegiate Athlete Compensation and Rights bill passed by the Florida legislature — which allows "certain student-athletes to earn compensation for their name, image, likeness or persona" — FSU partnered with a social media guru program called Apex. A driving concept behind the program and partnership is to focus on student-athletes’ names, images and likenesses, or NIL.
In Pennsylvania, such bills have been introduced, but not put into law as of early March. Similar bills have been introduced in the federal government.
David Coburn, FSU's vice president and director of athletics, told the Tallahassee Democrat that Apex is “structured to allow student-athletes to maximize their NIL potential while in college and help them graduate with less debt, assist their families and prepare for the next chapter in their lives."
As the name implies, NIL essentially represents the curated brand image of individual student-athletes, and Apex merely streamlines the curation and makes it that much more lucrative.
Despite the hyper reliance on buzzwords and business jargon, FSU's effort has its heart in the right place. For too long, student-athletes played the role of Atlas for their universities, holding the institutions up through painstaking effort and strength, and receiving infinitesimal compensation in return.
What the newly minted bill offers, then, is a reversal of course and righting of wrongful behavior on the part of universities. At the very least, Atlas shall be properly recognized for his efforts and finally allowed to maximize his brand potential. One might hope the recognition blossoms into direct compensation, but until that fateful day, baby steps can hold us over.
Accordingly, a giant institution such as Penn State can surely afford, both financially and ethically, to take similar baby steps and offer students similar packages — if Pennsylvania passes NIL legislation.
After all, Penn State athletics reported a total profit of $4.2 million in 2019. Even if paychecks are quickly ruled out, offering the ability to expand athletes' profiles so they could maximize their returns from shvitzing, shows the university actually tends its biggest incubators of revenue rather than merely pretending.
Additionally, FSU's friendship with Apex points to further erosion of belief in amateurism, the doctrine held sacred by the NCAA that characterizes all student-athletes as amateurs and thus disqualified from salaried payment. The NCAA insists on maintaining a strict line between collegiate athletes and professional ones, and believes the demarcation is necessary in order for fans to enjoy the wild world of college sports.
Even the Supreme Court doubted the continued importance of amateurism. Earlier in March, during hearings for NCAA vs. Alston, various judges from across the spectrum deconstructed the concept of amateurism and found it sorely wanting.
"You can only ride on the history for so long. A great deal has changed since 100 years ago in the way student-athletes are treated,” Justice Elena Kagan said.
Even though the Alston case only involves education-related benefits such as study abroad opportunities or cash payments for academic excellence, the court's logic hints at something greater on the horizon.
More specifically, the legal system's increasing acceptance of benefits for college athletes is but another tale, another story in the larger saga of NCAA's losing battle to “protect” these same athletes from the horrors of just compensation.
Florida already detected the writing on the wall and rallied to student-athletes' defense. Perhaps more states and universities should read the same writing and act with similar swiftness.
Daily Collegian Opinion Editor David Tilli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.