BOSTON — Lawmakers are urging rules that allow college athletes to get paid, following a decision by the NCAA to suspend a policy keeping athletes from making money from the use of their names, images or likenesses.
"It is no longer a question of if college athletes will be allowed to earn compensation," Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, the primary sponsor of a bill in the state Senate, told the Legislature's Committee on Higher Education on Tuesday. "It is a question of how they can do so."
Finegold said the NCAA's recent decision "lacks teeth" and leaves many colleges and universities scrambling to come up with rules on their own. He said the state should pass a law protecting athletes and giving clarity to colleges as they figure out how to comply with the NCAA’s guidelines.
Finegold's bill would not allow athletes to be paid for playing, but they could get a cut of the money that colleges and other businesses make by using their names, images or likenesses on clothing, video games and memorabilia.
"Student athletes sacrifice their time, put their bodies on the line, and generate billions in revenue," Finegold said. "Many athletes come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and they sometimes struggle to pay for textbooks or even meals. How is this fair?"
Members of the Legislature's Black and Latino Caucus, including Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, have co-sponsored similar legislation.
A primary sponsor of that bill, Rep. Carlos González, D-Springfield, said the goal is to ensure that college athletes, especially students from low-income families, get their fair share.
The measures, if approved, could affect thousands of students athletes in Massachusetts colleges. There are 38 NCAA Division 1 schools in the state including Boston College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Merrimack College.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the NCAA was violating antitrust rules and should allow student-athletes to be compensated. The justices didn't rule on details, suggesting those be worked out by legislation.
Several states, including Florida and Alabama, have approved laws authorizing college athletes to make money from their names and likenesses. Many of those laws went into affect July 1.
Under new rules, the NCAA allows athletes to profit using social media accounts, teaching, starting their own businesses, or participating in advertising campaigns, among other sources of income. Athletes are allowed to hire agents to help them get endorsement deals.
There are limits, however, including the NCAA’s continued prohibition on college athletes being paid directly for competing in sports.
In a recent statement, NCAA President Mark Emmert said the organization is working with Congress to "develop a solution that will provide clarity to the new policy on a national level.”
Finegold said Massachusetts can’t afford to wait.
"It's the wild west until Congress acts," he said. "We don't have any state guidelines for this, and the schools are reaching out for guidance."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Eagle-Tribune and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.