Senator: Enable Massachusetts college athletes to be paid

Boston Statehouse

Sen. Barry Finegold, the lone person to testify at a Higher Education Committee hearing Tuesday, said his bill to allow college athletes to sign endorsement deals and retain eligibility after being drafted would correct a system that has lacked equity for decades. (Photo: Chris Lisinski/SHNS)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Allowing college athletes to sign endorsement deals would improve equity and ensure that those who generate significant revenue for their schools can reap benefits themselves, Sen. Barry Finegold told colleagues Tuesday.

One day before a key legislative deadline, Finegold was the lone speaker at a Higher Education Committee hearing that only had his bill (S 2454) on the agenda.

In addition to opening the door for members of Massachusetts college sports teams to receive paying endorsements, the bill would establish a fund to compensate injured players and would prevent athletes from losing National Collegiate Athletic Association eligibility when they are drafted by professional sports teams.

College sports have become a lucrative industry, Finegold said, with millions of dollars in profits for schools that compete and hefty paychecks for coaching staffs. While the NCAA is moving toward allowing student athletes to be paid, Finegold said he wants the state to act now to keep up the pressure.

“If someone is using your name to profit, I believe you should be entitled to receive compensation for that as well,” Finegold told the committee.

Finegold pointed to examples of student athletes who have faced significant discipline for receiving financial benefits, such as former UMass and NBA star Marcus Camby, while the NCAA and colleges continue to profit from other players’ performances.

Louisiana State University head football coach Ed Orgeron received a $500,000 bonus for his team’s victory in the 2020 national championship, Finegold said, but the players are barred under existing NCAA rules from receiving paychecks themselves.

“This is working very well for the NCAA. It’s working very well for the colleges,” Finegold said. “But the question is: is it really working for the student athletes?”

No one spoke in opposition to the bill at Tuesday’s hearing.

Finegold’s legislation, filed in December, would only allow college athletes to be paid through endorsements by outside companies, unlike a Rep. Carlos Gonzalez bill (HD 4559) — which was filed a month earlier and still has not been scheduled for a committee hearing — that would require schools to provide 15 percent of revenue from ticket sales to athletes.

Finegold said he and Gonzalez agree about the general principle but have “some respectful differences” on how students should be permitted to earn income as athletes.

Gonzalez could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Both bills also call for creation of a trust fund that would pay students who suffer career-ending or long-term injuries as part of their sport. Finegold cited former men’s ice hockey player Travis Roy, who fractured his spine and was paralyzed while playing for Boston University in 1995, as an example of why a protective fund is necessary.

The Senate bill includes language not in the House version that would allow student athletes to be drafted without forfeiting their NCAA eligibility — and, often in turn, the scholarships that allowed them to attend college.

“In theory, you might say they’re making all this money, but the average NFL career is four years,” Finegold told reporters after the hearing. “That’s not going to last you for a lifetime, but a degree from a good institution will last you a lifetime.”

California in September approved state legislation allowing college athletes to be paid for use of their likeness and to sign endorsement deals, which Finegold said inspired the push in Massachusetts.

In October, the NCAA’s board voted in favor of allowing students to receive compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness, but its exact plan and timeline for implementing the trend remains unclear.

“If the NCAA won’t do it, then we should,” Finegold told reporters after the hearing. “If they’re not willing to do the right thing by student athletes, us lawmakers need to step up and do something like this.”

The bills are subject to Wednesday’s deadline, known on Beacon Hill as Joint Rule 10 Day, for committees to issue recommendations on most bills or seek an extension.

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