A state House committee will hold a public hearing next week on a bill to allow college athletes to receive compensation. The athletes wouldn't be paid a salary but would be able to benefit from the marketing of their talents. The bill has been proposed by Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn).
KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked about the legislation — and the bigger issue it addresses — with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.
Thiel said the legislation proposes a novel idea.
"You're not asking the universities to start forking over more money than they already think they should. I think they should. Because they're making millions off the unpaid labor of these athletes.
"Sure, they're getting a scholarship, but they're often bringing in money that's many times more valuable than what they're getting compensated for in the scholarships.
"This idea makes the state an actor in this little drama, which has typically not taken place because the NCAA is a trade association, run by Mark Emmert, the former University of Washington president, that helps the collective will of the universities make money as an entertainment operation.
"And they're doing very, very well because they don't have to pay the labor force. They just give them scholarships. It's a scam. And it's been a scam for many years.
"This piece of legislation, even though it's unusual, is a conversation starter."
LET THE MARKETPLACE PAY
The legislation (House Bill 1084) has been referred to the House College and Workforce Development Committee. It's scheduled for a public hearing on Jan. 22.
Thiel doesn't expect it to go further than that. But he said it's a start.
"That's what this issue needs is more conversation among more state legislators about this inequity that's going on," he said. "(Rep. Stokesbary's) notion is that if the state is a player in this, he wants to let the marketplace give athletes a fair share.
"If a sneaker company wants to have (Washington) Husky quarterback Jake Browning endorse a sneaker, he can get compensated at fair market value.
"Now there are problems with that, of course. Not all athletes will be treated equal. But it's a starter. Some athletes deserve compensation if their likeness is being used to sell merchandise. That's always been the case that it should happen but it hasn't."
MOVEMENT IS GROWING
Thiel pointed out he's been a longtime advocate for compensating players. And he said the movement is growing.
"I've always believed that the NCAA is the second most reform-resistant institution in American culture next to the Pentagon," he joked. "They've successfully resisted reform. They've successfully resisted compensating players. And it's lasted a long time.
"The whole notion of amateurism is extinct in every other place in the world except U.S. college sports. It's an anachronism. It's a throwback to the 19th century British royal culture and it doesn't belong in the marketplace in the U.S.
"I'm hoping what happens here is this is a firestarter. That other legislators around the country will see this and say, 'Hey, is this something we can do?'
"The NCAA will say, 'Well, wait a minute, we're a national organization. We can't have this goofball state of Washington compensating players because it would be unfair.'
"And I would say the system is already unfair. And everything else in Washington is legal, why not this?"