BOSTON — College athletes rake in billions of dollars a year for their schools, cable networks and collegiate associations, but they aren't allowed to be compensated for their talents.
A proposal filed by members of the state Legislature's Black and Latino Caucus would open the doors for athletes to get some of that money. It would prevent public and private colleges from revoking scholarships because a student gets paid for the use of their name, image and likeness, or hires a sports agent or lawyer.
The bill would also violate current rules by National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs more than 1,100 schools and nearly 500,000 student athletes across the country.
Still, backers of the plan say it would ensure that college athletes, especially students from low-income families, get a fair share of revenue from their talents.
"Some of these student-athletes come from poor families who are really struggling," said Rep. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, one of the bill's primary sponsors. "They're generating tens of millions of dollars for these colleges, so it's only fair that they get some of those benefits to help alleviate some of their financial hardships."
Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, also supports allowing student athletes to be compensated but said he wants to ensure that it won’t affect academic programs.
"The main purpose of going to college is to achieve academic goals, not just sports," he said. "But sports is a big business, and they're making a lot of money off these kids."
While the law won't force colleges to pay students, it will allow student-athletes to get paid for endorsement deals and hire agents when the new rules take effect.
Schools would be required to create a fund to help injured athletes and set aside 15% of revenue from ticket sales to be divided among student-athletes and for sports programs.
The proposal also would establish a new regulatory process for registering agents to represent student-athletes, which would be overseen by the Secretary of State's office.
West Coast model
The proposal is modeled after California's Fair Pay to Play Act, which was recently signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The California law, which goes into effect in 2023, upends the NCAA's prohibition on athletes receiving compensation beyond room, board and a free education. It is also touching off a race by other states to adopt similar changes so their colleges don’t lose top talent to the West Coast.
Last month, the NCAA's top governing board signaled in response to the California law that it might be softening its stance on prohibiting athletes from being paid. The move represents a major shift for the organization, which has historically been steadfast in banning compensation of athletes in order to preserve its amateurism rules.
But the NCAA’s three divisions haven't released any details of a plan.
Legislatures in a dozen states are considering their own rules for student-athletes.
There are 38 NCAA Division 1 schools in Massachusetts, including Boston University, Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Merrimack College.
Spokespeople for several colleges and universities contacted for this story didn't respond to requests for comment, even though their student-athletes would be affected if the proposal is passed on Beacon Hill.
A spokesman for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts said the organization is still reviewing the proposal and hasn't taken a position.
The NCAA says any changes to its rules on student-athletes would require them to be "treated similarly to non-athlete students."
It also stipulated 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."
"We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes," said Michael Drake, chairman of the NCAA’s Board of Governors and president of The Ohio State University, in a statement. "Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.