BOSTON — College athletes in Massachusetts should be paid for the fame and notoriety they gain by playing sports, some lawmakers say, but plans to allow that are running headlong into rules that forbid compensation for collegiate sports.
A proposal heard by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Higher Education on Tuesday would open the doors for college athletes to be compensated. It would prevent colleges and universities from revoking scholarships because students are paid for use of their names, images and likenesses, or hire agents.
Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, the bill's primary sponsor in the Senate, said athletes wouldn’t be paid for playing, but they could get a slice of the hundreds of millions of dollars that colleges and other businesses receive from using their names, images or likenesses on clothing, video games and other memorabilia.
"If someone is using your name to profit, I believe you should be entitled to receive compensation," Finegold told the panel. "This is about justice and equity. It's the right thing to do."
Finegold, who played football at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, said collegiate sports are awash with money, and talented athletes aren't being properly compensated.
"It's no longer college kids playing each other," he said. "There's too much money. There's too much influence. And it's not really working for the student athletes."
Members of the Legislature's Black and Latino Caucus, including Lawrence Reps. Frank Moran and Marcos Devers, have filed similar legislation in the state House of Representatives.
Moran, who supports Finegold's bill, said the goal is to ensure that college athletes, especially students from low-income families, receive a fair share of revenue.
"Colleges are making big money off their names," the Lawrence Democrat said. "It's only fair that these student athletes should be able to benefit from it."
Still, the proposals would upend rules by the National Collegiate Athletic Association that ban athletes from receiving compensation beyond room, board and a free education.
The NCAA, which governs more than 1,100 schools and about 500,000 student athletes, boasts annual revenue of more than $1 billion, much of it from broadcast fees for popular sporting events such as the Division 1 men's basketball tournament.
The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, which represents about 60 private schools, favors a bipartisan plan being hammered out in Congress to reshape the college athletic model.
"Our institutions strive to provide their student athletes with the resources and support to ensure they complete their college education while achieving athletic success," Richard Doherty, the association's president, said in a statement. "A federal solution is critical so that colleges and their athletes are not operating under 50 different state policies."
While Finegold's law wouldn't force colleges to pay students, it will allow athletes to be paid for endorsement deals and hire agents.
Schools would be required to contribute money to a "catastrophic sports injury fund," which would be overseen the state Board of Higher Education.
The proposals, modeled after California's recently enacted Fair Pay to Play Act, also would establish a process for registering agents to represent student athletes.
Last year, the NCAA's top governing board signaled in response to the California law that it might soften its stance on prohibiting athletes from being paid. The move represents a major shift for the organization, which historically has been steadfast in banning compensation of athletes.
But the NCAA’s three divisions haven't released any details of a plan.
The NCAA's response has touched off a race by other states to adopt similar changes so their colleges don’t lose top talent to the West Coast. The California law goes into effect in 2023.
Lawmakers in at least a dozen states are weighing their own rules for student athlete compensation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
There are 38 NCAA Division 1 schools in Massachusetts, including Boston University, Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Merrimack College.
The NCAA says any changes to its rules for student athletes would require them to be "treated similarly to non-athlete students."
It also stipulates that college athletes must not be paid for playing or be considered employees of their respective universities, and that there should be a "clear distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.