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COLUMNS

If you have an alternative to NIL in Florida high schools, please speak up

David Whitley
Gainesville Sun

The Florida High School Athletic Association approved NIL last week. So far, the sky hasnֱt fallen.

But give it time, a lot of well-meaning people say.

ֱI am not against NIL, but there are a lot of scary things,ֱ said Shelton Crews, the executive director of the Florida Athletic Coaches Association.

His words last week were directed at the FHSAAֱs board of directors. It is easy to see scary, crazy, jarring scenarios. Like a 16-year-old quarterback making more off his sport than his coach.

Board members acknowledged that. Then they voted 13-0 to join the NIL revolution.

Itֱs not that they wanted to. Nobody relishes the thought of a 16-year-old quarterback making more during a season than his coach.

As weֱve learned from colleges, willy transferring, small schools getting scavenged and kids putting dollars ahead of school loyalty are real worries ֱ and theyֱll be even more jolting at the high school level.

So why is Florida entering the NIL jungle?

For one reason, the Doomsday scenarios havenֱt really materialized in 36 other states that have approved NIL in high schools.

Georgia approved NIL last year, and in the first three months, 44 out of 429,714 athletes signed NIL deals, according to and most deals were hardly enough for a kid to buy a used Camry, much less a new Lamborghini.

But the biggest reason the FHSAA approved NIL was that it had no choice.

If youֱre against pay-for-play, two things are lined up against you ֱ the legal system and human nature.

The rocked the sports world in 2021 when it unanimously ruled that the NCAAֱs restrictions on athlete benefits violated antitrust laws. It was just a matter of time until the ripple effect hit high schools.

ֱSomebody was going to challenge it on the high-school level,ֱ FHSAA board member Paul Selvidio said. ֱTheyֱd say, ֱWe donֱt restrict you if youֱre writing code and selling it to Microsoft as a 15-year-old. If youֱre a prodigy and invent something and sell it, thereֱs no prohibition on that.ֱ

Iֱve yet to hear a decent rebuttal to that argument.

Some argue that society routinely limits what minors can do. Itֱs true, we donֱt allow kids to drink or drive or buy AK-47s.

But those are matters of public safety. If someone canֱt reach the brake pedal, they shouldnֱt drive a car. Banning NIL would be infringing on the fundamental right to earn money for your services.

A 15-year-old has as much a right to that as someone whoֱs 18 or 32 or 57, even if the service is throwing a football.

That craziness is not on the kid. Itֱs on a society that places such a high value on that skill.

Once you accept that weֱre hopelessly addicted to sports entertainment, itֱs harder to condemn the characters involved ֱ even on a high school level.

Start with boosters or collectives at School X. They love their teams, so they raise money to help them succeed.

They ask Fredֱs Barbecue to pay a linebacker $2,000 to make weekly appearances at the Tuesday Night Pork Fest. Fred does the math and figures that $1,000 will lead to $4,500 in extra sales.

The linebacker says, ֱI can make zero if I stay at School Y, or $2,000 if I transfer to School X.ֱ

The coach at School X says, ֱI hate luring a kid with money, but I really need a stud linebacker.ֱ

Self-interest fuels the entire NIL machine. Like the NCAA, the FHSAA has established guardrails to keep some semblance of order.

Weֱve seen how well thatֱs worked out in college.

The Robert W. Hughes FHSAA Building in Gainesville, Florida as seen on Nov. 7, 2022.

I donֱt see the same mayhem coming for Florida high schools, though I donֱt blame people for being worried.

ֱI will be the one to stand up here in three years and tell you, ֱI told you so,ֱֱ Crews told the FHSAA board. ֱItֱs going to create havoc.ֱ

Saying, ֱI told you so,ֱ would be easy. The hard part would be coming up with an NIL system that is both legal and of which nobody will take advantage.

That would require a fundamental change in human nature. Nobody has a plan for that.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on X @DavidEWhitley