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Will NIL in Florida make it harder for public schools to compete with private schools?

“Put King Kong up against Jane and see what happens. That’s absolutely ridiculous. King Kong will beat up on Jane. It’s bananas.”

Miami Edison High School football coach Luther Campbell uses the analogy while defending his views that public and private schools should not have to compete against each other in the state playoffs.

It’s not a new argument, but the issue is getting revived again considering the Florida High School Athletic Association’s upcoming vote on name, image and likeness (NIL).

The FHSAA’s Board of Directors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on bylaws that would allow high school athletes to profit from NIL deals while maintaining their eligibility.

Using NIL to recruit players to a high school is against the proposed bylaws. Then again, simply recruiting a student-athlete in any way is against the rules, but it’s a not-so-quiet reality of high school sports in Florida.

“I think you could head down a path that is not beneficial to kids if you’re not careful and you let people involved take advantage of kids and other people, and you get situations set up where it’s pay-to-play,” Bishop Verot football coach Riche Rode said. “I don’t think it’s a good thing."

Mandarin quarterback Tramell Jones (1) throws downfield as Miami Columbus edge rushers Dylan Stephenson (2) and Willis McGahee IV (17) close in during the FHSAA Class 4M high school football championship game on December 8, 2023. Columbus won 38-19.
Mandarin quarterback Tramell Jones (1) throws downfield as Miami Columbus edge rushers Dylan Stephenson (2) and Willis McGahee IV (17) close in during the FHSAA Class 4M high school football championship game on December 8, 2023. Columbus won 38-19.

FHSAA set to vote on adding eight-team Championship Division for all team sports

NIL as a recruiting tool?

Should the NIL vote pass — and it’s expected to — it’s possible programs will try to use NIL as a recruiting tool.

The combination of Florida’s open enrollment policy that allows rampant transfers coupled with enforcement concerns of the current NIL proposal has some believing it inevitably will be used by some programs to stockpile talent.

More: Commentary: FHSAA must determine how to approve NIL, stop cheaters

“No question about it,” Campbell said. “That is one of our concerns. (Private schools) have endless resources. Right now, they are taking vans into Dade County, Broward County, and Palm Beach County to transport kids to their schools. At the end of the day, they have endless resources versus public schools. It’s going to be, ‘Come to this school and get an NIL deal.’ And those parents are going to go because they’re already hurting in South Florida right now. People are hurting for money in more ways than one. They’re going to take advantage, look at loopholes, and they’ll cut deals with local vendors.”

Campbell said he is in favor of the concept and was outspoken on the issue for college players long before the Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling that opened the door for college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness.

But if it will be used by high schools to recruit kids, Campbell believes it will create a competitive imbalance too great to ignore.

“Put them in their own conference,” Campbell said. “Put all those private schools in their own conference. Do it the same way they do it in every other state. Because they don’t play by the same rules we play by. Last time I checked, if you don’t play by the same rules, why are you playing against them? And now you add (NIL) into it? It doesn’t make any sense.”

The public vs. private school debate

The argument that public and private schools should play for separate championships is an old one that seems to get rehashed every few years. When the FHSAA split the football teams into Metro and Suburban classes two years ago, many coaches complained that the split should have been public and private.

According to a report from the Pennsylvania Capital Star on May 30, only eight states separate private and public schools in the postseason. Georgia is splitting public and private schools in postseason play starting in the fall. Pennsylvania state representative Scott Conklin has been vocal this month that the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association needs to split its public and private schools, comparing it to Penn State and Harvard playing for a football championship.

Mainland's Tia Dobson (10) drives while defended by American Heritage's Jasleen Green (34) during the FHSAA 5A Girls Basketball State Championship, Friday, March 8, 2024, at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland. American Heritage won 60-55.
Mainland's Tia Dobson (10) drives while defended by American Heritage's Jasleen Green (34) during the FHSAA 5A Girls Basketball State Championship, Friday, March 8, 2024, at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland. American Heritage won 60-55.

In Florida, private schools won five of eight possible football state championships in 2023, not including the rural class. Private schools swept all four Metro titles, with the state champion beating a public school in three of the four title games. In the past five years, a private school has played a public school 15 times for a football state title. Private schools are 13-2 with the lone public school winners being Booker T. Washington (2019, Class 4A) and 2022 national champion Miami Central (Class 2M).

In the three biggest sports connected to NIL — boys and girls basketball and football — private schools won 13 of a possible 22 championships during the 2023-24 school year.

The rationale behind splitting the two is based on equity. Private schools have certain advantages that public schools don’t have. Private schools can pay a coach whatever they want while public school stipends are predetermined by the union’s collective bargaining agreement. Private schools can have more — and better paid — assistants than most public schools. Private schools tend to have more they can offer in terms of facilities, equipment and nutrition. Private schools also can determine their standards on certain rules while public schools may be mandated something different by the county.

“At the bottom line, where public schools are always going to suffer is, they don't really have, per se, a coach,” said Delray Beach-American Heritage assistant coach Mike Skonieczki, who has experience coaching at both public and private schools. “It's more of a schoolteacher giving their time back. Until the school board pays more than a $1,500 stipend, that's the main issue.”

Venice state champion football coach John Peacock has long been in favor of splitting public and private schools for state titles. Adding NIL to the mix could only create more of an imbalance.

Venice's head coach John Peacock celebrates his quarterback Brooks Bentley touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Buchholz Bobcats during the Class 4 Suburban state semifinal, Friday night, Dec. 2, 2022, at the Powell-Davis Stadium in Venice, Florida.
Venice's head coach John Peacock celebrates his quarterback Brooks Bentley touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Buchholz Bobcats during the Class 4 Suburban state semifinal, Friday night, Dec. 2, 2022, at the Powell-Davis Stadium in Venice, Florida.

“Yes, I absolutely do because they have private money,” Peacock said. “I don't know what’s going to happen. I think you’ll probably have different regulations in Sarasota County than you have in Hillsborough County. I think anytime you are dealing with public schools and private schools, private schools will have some rules that apply to NIL that doesn’t apply to a public school. They’ll put some regulations on us in each county that will differ.

“There is no other competitive arena that this happens in. It doesn’t happen in college, NFL or the NBA. Everything is equitable.”

What will NIL become in Florida?

In college, NIL has become a large blanket term that covers two separate things. On one hand, some players are earning money to be a brand ambassador. On the other, players are receiving pre-negotiated NIL money from a collective contingent on them signing a National Letter of Intent and being on the roster.

FHSAA board member Ricky Bell said in February’s meeting that the state needs to clearly define NIL so the latter doesn’t take place in high schools.

“NIL in college is not name, image, and likeness,” Bell said. “It’s just giving money to kids just because they’re on the roster. We don’t need to get into a situation where we’re dealing with (that). We need to make sure collectives aren’t involved, we have to make sure agents are involved, we have to make sure that if a kid does sign an NIL deal there’s a legitimate business they’re producing something for. There is some kind of product they have produced to get this money, not just, ‘I’m a great athlete.'”

Cardinal Gibbons state championship football coach Matt Dubuc has multiple concerns about NIL, including student-athletes profiting while coaches in the state are drastically underpaid and also how the system can be manipulated.

Gibbons head coach Matthew DuBuc looks at the scoreboard during the Class 4A State Championship game between Cardinal Gibbons and Cocoa Beach at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, FL., on Thursday, December 16, 2021. Final score, Gibbons 21, Cocoa, 19.
Gibbons head coach Matthew DuBuc looks at the scoreboard during the Class 4A State Championship game between Cardinal Gibbons and Cocoa Beach at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, FL., on Thursday, December 16, 2021. Final score, Gibbons 21, Cocoa, 19.

“I don’t know if it’s public-private,” he said. “I don’t know if I would put it in that realm. It’s haves or have-nots. Is there a plan to stop the recruiting of someone's light bill or someone’s cell phone bill? Are you going to offer free cell phones to every kid on the team? If it comes to that, I’m out. Because then it's pro football. Some of these schools, they'll end up dropping their programs because anyone who can play football will follow the dollars. I have a son in college. I still think it’s all about education.

“It isn’t going to happen at our school. Otherwise, I’ll go to college. … What’s going to end up happening is you’ll see a title wave of high school coaches leaving and youth coaches will come in. Play will decrease. Eventually, you’ll have to 10 good teams that have all the kids.”

Orlando Jones football coach Elijah Williams said it will take a couple of years to see what NIL in Florida becomes.

“This year, I don’t think you’ll see much movement because of NIL,” he said. “But next year? We’ll see what drastic changes it causes. Look, if I’m a parent or student-athlete, I would be very happy for it. As a staff (member) in the education system, it adds another barrier and uncharted water we have to work with. It’s so new, I don’t know what to expect.”

 Dustin Levy and Alex Peterman contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: High school NIL prompts concerns over recruiting, competitive balance