OLYMPIA, Wash. - Representatives from Washington's two largest universities told lawmakers Tuesday they oppose a proposal to allow student athletes to be paid, even after changes proponents had hoped would ease concerns.
Along with pay for games, the proposal would allow student athletes to be compensated for sponsorship deals already common in professional leagues like the NBA and NFL.
University of Washington basketball standout Noah Dickerson explained how he had to get by on Valentine's Day this year -- without the option of being paid for athletic performance.
"I got her a rose and a balloon," said Dickerson. "(I'm) balling (at) UW on a budget."
Landing in an arena that in recent years has seen at least two prominent challenges in federal court, the bill would put Washington at the forefront of a national debate where critics portray athletes as left out of vast profits while league organizers say pay restrictions preserve competition between schools and a broader amateurism that fans support.
"It's just not right,” Keagan Leon, a University of Washington student, told KIRO 7's David Solano.
But representatives from both the University of Washington and Washington State University objected Tuesday to being first in the nation to try out such a change, even after tweaks designed to streamline the court challenge the bill would likely provoke. They said the issue should be addressed at the national level, rather than by the state.
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"Do we want Washington to lead on this? For us the answer is no," said Chris Mulick, director of state relations for Washington State University.
A representative from a group of independent colleges including Gonzaga and Whitman also opposed the bill.
Tuesday's bill included technical changes that created a cause for legal action by players restricted from accepting sponsorships or other compensation, potentially reducing the risk that universities might have legal blocks put on their athletic programs during a court cases related to the bill.
"Scholarships just aren't enough,” Leon said. “Just because if they (University of Washington) have all of that money, they should be able to go and give some back."
State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, an Auburn Republican, said before the hearing that he hoped the changes would assuage concerns from the universities that the proposal could leave them caught between state law and the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Stokesbary was the driver behind the both the Senate bill heard Tuesday and its House companion, which he sponsored.
Afterward, however, Mulick said that he couldn't think of a change that would make the bill palatable.
As the regulating body for intercollegiate sports, including the games played by prominent teams like the national-championship-winning Clemson Tigers, of Clemson University in South Carolina, the NCAA has contended that amateurism is an essential component of college sports.
"If I was a college athlete I would want to be paid,” said UW student Jaclyn Amrine. “But from the colleges standpoint, they do save money and they do make money off the athletes."
But not everyone on UW's campus agrees.
"If the campus allocates funds just to pay them (student-athletes) – well, not them only – a lot of it would go to them, because there's so many,” said UW freshman Sammie Kuriyama. “I feel that a lot of other students would feel that it's unfair."
The organization restricts athlete pay to covering costs, including small stipends, and has said in response to past controversies that doing so keeps both powerhouse universities and smaller schools on equal footing.
In remarks before the Tuesday hearing, Stokesbary said the college system is already professionalized, with multimillion-dollar salaries for coaches and top-notch facilities, leaving only the players paid as amateurs.
In an interview afterward, Sen. Guy Palumbo, a Democrat from Seattle who sponsored the Senate version, acknowledged the united opposition of prominent schools likely diminished the chances for the proposal.
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