UW, WSU representatives speak against bill that would allow compensation for college athletes

Representatives from both the University of Washington and Washington State University were among those that testified at a hearing in Olympia on Wednesday against a bill that would allow college athletes to be compensated.

House Bill 1084 would not require schools to pay athletes, but instead would allow the athletes to earn income from endorsements or other means.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) is the primary sponsor of the bill. He presented it Wednesday and answered questions from the House College & Workforce Development committee.

“The idea of paying college athletes is something that has come up mainly on the sports stations, not so much on the politics stations, for decades,” he said. “I think public opinion is slowly beginning to change on it.”

Stokesbary said the bill wouldn’t necessarily override any NCAA rules, but instead it would make it a violation of the state’s consumer protection act if the NCAA tried to enforce those rules on Washington schools.

He admitted it was a unique approach to the controversial issue, and also said he was open to hearing other ideas about how to compensate athletes.

“It’s been famously remarked that states are laboratories of democracy,” Stokesbary said. “There is no better example of that quote than this bill here before you.”

Chris Mullick with WSU and Joe Dacca with UW, the directors of state relations for each school, were among those to speak at the hearing. They both cited concerns the bill would put their institutions at odds with the NCAA and discourage athletes from attending the two universities.

"This bill would require the university to allow athletes to engage in activities that are in clear violation of NCAA bylaws," Mullick said.

They also cited recent changes to NCAA rules that have provided additional benefits to student athletes. Dacca pointed out that UW athletes now get an annual stipend of $2,800 in addition to compensation in the form of room and board, tuition and books.

Mullick revisited Stokesbary’s earlier words, saying “if states are laboratories of democracy, we’d rather not be the lab rat.”

Dacca agreed.

“We understand the well-meaning intentions of the sponsor,” he said. “But we do have serious concerns that this would encourage our student-athletes to violate NCAA bylaws and thus leading to our programs becoming ineligible.”

David Buri from Eastern Washington University also testified in opposition of the bill, although he suggested the idea was intriguing.

“I think this is an important discussion,” he said. “And it’s an important discussion on a national level.”

Terri Standish-Kuon spoke in representation of the state’s independent colleges. She suggested that the bill would likely only benefit a few athletes who compete at the highest level and not the vast majority participating in athletics throughout the state.

The Washington Labor Council provided a statement to the committee in favor of the bill.

An executive session to discuss the bill is scheduled for Jan. 29.