OLYMPIA – Some legislators think Washington should lead the way in allowing college athletes to sue the NCAA for a share of the multi-billion dollar industry created by college sports.
Washington’s public universities, however, say they shouldn’t take the lead on state efforts to address a national problem. They aren’t convinced the latest version of a proposal to allow college athletes to hire agents and seek endorsements and other payments would protect them from NCAA sanctions.
“We’d rather not be the guinea pig for this national situation,” Chris Mulick, a spokesman for Washington State University, told the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday.
The committee is considering the latest version of a bill to allow college athletes to receive payments above the scholarships and stipends they currently receive. An earlier House version would have prevented Washington universities from enforcing NCAA rules against outside payments under the state’s consumer protection law. Under the new iteration, the schools wouldn’t be held liable but athletes would have a legal claim against the NCAA for anti-trust violations.
Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, who proposed that earlier version in the House, said the athletes are the ones who haven’t benefited as college sports have become increasingly profitable. While top coaches now command multi-million salaries and universities spend sports revenue on facilities that rival or exceed professional teams, college athletes still receive what they have for decades: free tuition, room and board.
Andy Schwartz, an anti-trust expert, likened college athletics to horse racing, where the owners, trainers and jockeys make money based on performance. The horses get food necessary to keep them going, just as college athletes get the scholarships to help them stay in school.
The definition of amateur athlete isn’t even consistent, Stokesbary argued, because a college athlete like Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, had already signed to play baseball with the Oakland Athletics but was considered an amateur for football.
It would be better to have Congress pass a national law, Stokesbary said, “but I don’t see them getting a whole lot done on anything.”
“Do we want Washington to be the one to lead the way on this topic or not?” he asked the committee.
Not, said Mulick and other college representatives. Being out front would bring a national spotlight that Washington athletic programs don’t need. The schools have to advise student athletes about NCAA rules; the law would create confusion and “more or less encourage non-compliance” with those rules, said Morgan Hickel of the University of Washington.
“We can’t predicte entirely how the NCAA would react,” Mulick added.
The schools wouldn’t even support the bill with an amendment from Committee Chairman Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, who suggested that the law could only take effect if 25 other states pass similar laws.
The committee will have to decide by the end of the week whether to send the bill to the full Senate.
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