Category Archives: College Football

The sin of wages

So here’s part of a Brian Cook rant about player compensation:

Everywhere else in society, an 18 year old who works really hard at something is financially compensated for it and most of them do not… I mean… why am I even arguing about this? If you’re the kind of person who thinks that young people doing dumb things with money is a threat instead of, you know, life, you probably start arguments with “Speaking as a parent.” Anyone who starts arguments with “Speaking as a parent” wants you to turn off your brain so they can feelingsball you. They are my mortal enemies, speaking as a person who can formulate an argument.

The aura of paternalism that hangs over objections to letting players get theirs is suffocating. “But if they get money they’ll…” They’ll what? They’ll still be under the thumb of a drill sergeant of a football coach desperate to remain in his good graces lest the faucet turn off. They will be the same, just with fewer things to stress about.

They might waste it. They might not. I just don’t care anymore. Let them have their five hundred dollars.

He’s got a point.  What is it about college players getting paid that turns so many of us off?  Hell, we’ve already seen what happens when colleges and conferences get paid.  Can players receiving payment make things worse than what the suits are putting us through as a consequence?

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Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness

Friday morning buffet

Pre-G-Day snack time…

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Filed under College Football, Gators, Gators..., Georgia Football, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

Amateurism and the romance of the status quo

Yesterday’s post about amateurism drew a lot of impassioned commentary in support of Bob Bowlsby’s argument that equal effort by student-athletes requires equal treatment by the schools and the NCAA.  The best example of that:

FYI, I asked multiple womens golfers from 16 of the top 25 teams @ a tournament in Hilton Head, SC last month how much time they practice & spend competing. Every one said 4-5 hours a day 7 days a week except when playing in a tournament. Last week, I ran into the U of Illinois womens golf team @ my neighborhood course practicing after competing in a tournament the prior 3 days. This was during spring break. Most of these girls were business, psychology, public relations, biology, spanish, early child development, etc majors and were earning good grades. These girls bust their asses for UGA just like the football & basketball players but don’t get the same “star” treatment & bennies. Heck yes the $ from football & basketball should be spread around to support the other sports. I don’t care how much $ the school/AD earns off of any sport. If you are not there for the education via a free scholarship, go earn your keep on your athletic talent in some minor league. Unhappy with the NFL rules, go sue them for the right to earn a job

I don’t doubt the sincerity of that statement.  Nor do I doubt the effort that every one of those golfers gives.  But even starting with the assumption that each NCAA student-athlete busts as much ass as the next one, ultimately I don’t find the argument convincing.  The problem with the argument is that it romanticizes college athletics to an unrealistic extent.  The reality is that the playing field for student-athletes isn’t level right now.

First of all, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, equal effort isn’t rewarded equally.  I’m guessing that those lady golfers have scholarships from Georgia as a result of Title IX requirements, but their male counterparts (along with other male student-athletes participating in non-revenue sports) don’t fare as well in that department.  Again, if it’s all about equal effort, why should that be the case?  And taking Bowlsby’s line of reasoning out to its full extent, how can you justify a failure to treat every kid playing Division III sports to the same scholarship opportunities?  They work just as hard, right?

The answer is that they don’t make any money for their schools.  Hard work only goes so far when it comes to getting a piece of the pie.

Second, it’s a fool’s errand to pretend Emmert and Bowlsby aren’t aware of that.  Emmert and the power conference commissioners are pushing a stipend – hell, call that for what it is, player payment – for football and basketball student-athletes.  Why are they advocating different treatment for those student-athletes than for the rest of the 400,000+ they claim to represent?  Again, it’s not about the effort.  It’s about the revenue stream.

Third, the irony of the last two sentences of that comment doesn’t escape me.  Those women golfers have an avenue available to them that is denied to the players bringing in the money.  They can turn pro any time they want.  Indeed, they don’t even have to go to college to pursue a professional golf career if they’re talented enough.

College athletics is hyper-monetized now.  Nobody on the management side advocates going back to a simpler time; they can’t afford to.  So instead they pitch a bifurcated vision in which they claim the players in revenue producing sports must be insulated from the rewards of their efforts, even as they are forced to make greater sacrifices in the name of revenue generation (you think any of those women golfers have ever had to miss as much school as the kids who played for the national title last night did?) and in which any dollar delivered to those players has to come out of the pockets of the rest of the 400,000 student-athletes in some sort of zero-sum game.  Except for that stipend, of course.

Don’t insult my intelligence.

It’s not your father’s status quo anymore.  That didn’t just happen overnight, either, in case you haven’t noticed what an absolute cock-up SEC scheduling has become since Mike Slive decided he needed to revisit the conference’s broadcast deals.  And here’s the last thing to consider: what you’ve got now is nothing compared to what’s going to happen if and when the NCAA starts losing some of those antitrust suits.

Now, what we think doesn’t matter in the vast scheme of things.  But Bob Bowlsby?  Different story there.  Either the suits need to start smelling what they’re trying to sell to us and adapt to the times, or wait to get run over and lose the opportunity to direct where college athletics goes.  In any event, the rest of us had better get used to accepting the limited value of equal effort.

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“I mean, it’s time to act.”

With the news that the commissioners of the five major conferences met in Chicago recently with a team of  – as in “at least” fifteen – lawyers to discuss a recent antitrust lawsuit filed against those leagues, is it fair to say that Mark Emmert’s come up with the epitaph for college football as we know it?

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An agreement to agree

As the leaders of the free world college athletics’ power conferences work their way through their own private Yalta, it’s becoming clear that the easy part is the D-1 power grab itself.  What they’re going to do after they’ve achieved autonomy?  Well, therein lies the rub.  Right now, it looks like the commissioners don’t seem capable of much more than passing wish lists around to each other.

“I think what was reflected in that memo is a growing consensus,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. “I think we’re going to get there.”

Among the topics addressed in what is labeled an “Attachment to Memorandum”:

– A lifetime opportunity fund that would allow former players to complete their education after leaving school. It would benefit players who depart early for the draft or who don’t graduate after their eligibility expires.

This point was mentioned specifically by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany last summer.

– Provide full cost of attendance to players. This long-discussed topic seems to a certainty in the future. Players would be given a prescribed amount extra in living expenses based on the cost of living in the particular college town.

– Redefine rules governing agents. That’s a preference of SEC commissioner Mike Slive. While Slive hasn’t been specific about what those changes would be, assume that new rules would allow more contact with agents while players are in school.

Slive often uses the example of students in other majors having access to experts in that field. Why shouldn’t an athlete be given the same advantages of a concert pianist who consults with great composer?

– Meet the healthy, safety and nutritional needs of players.

Those first four bullet items had been previously mentioned among the commissioners.

You think that’s a little amorphous?  It’s rock solid granite compared with the rest of what’s in that memorandum.

New to the memorandum are these points the commissioners may want to change “if future circumstances warrant revision.” …

– Addressing scholarships that are reduced, cancelled or not renewed at the whim of a coach. Coaches have been criticized for promising a full-ride in recruiting then have the power to cancel scholarships on a year-to-year basis.

In 1973, the NCAA went from four-year scholarships to one-year renewable scholarships.

– Provide paid transportation for parents for official recruiting visits to championship events. (College Football Playoff, NCAA Tournament, bowls etc.)

– Rescinding rules that inhibit a player’s desire to pursue a non-athletic career. A Minnesota wrestler was declared ineligible last year because he posted music videos of himself online. NCAA rules prohibit a player from using his name or image for commercial use.

That rule seems to going away one way or another. Players’ rights to their image and likeness are at the heart of the O’Bannon lawsuit.

– Permit schools or players to get loans regarding “career-related” insurance.

– Policies regarding athletes’ time demands. Northwestern players were allowed to unionize, in part, because a National Labor Relations Board official concluded that players do devote at least 40 hours per week to their sport.

– More flexible transfer rules.

“if future circumstances warrant revision.” ?  Translation:  if we keep getting our asses kicked in court, here’s a potential Plan B to fall back on eventually if we can’t get Congress to intervene.  A profile in courage it ain’t exactly.

As for the items themselves, there’s little to object to there – unless you’re a head coach, of course – but I think I like where John Infante goes with his list a little better (there is some overlap), because it’s more tailored to keeping the academic part of the student-athlete in the equation.

I suppose they deserve credit for even acknowledging there are conditions that require change.  But not much, at least until there’s real action.  Maybe Nick Saban can reassure them.

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Filed under College Football, The NCAA

Amateurism has fallen down and it can’t get up.

Instead of gnashing our teeth over players getting paid and strikes for bigger dorm rooms, how come more attention isn’t being paid to how college football got to this point in the first place?  Whatever reality the NCAA’s ideal of amateurism was initially grounded in is long gone.  What’s left is little more than a myth.

If we make sports the embodiment of American ideals, it makes a certain amount of sense, however irrational it is, that we want athletes to focus on something other than money. It would be too uncomfortable to acknowledge that the games we set up as objects of worship are really just a way for us to venerate a few talented people for extracting the highest possible compensation in exchange for their gifts.

But the lie the myth of amateurism lets us tell about college is at least as pernicious as the one it perpetuates about our love of sports. Suggesting that the hours athletes spend training, in practice, in strategy sessions and on the field or court represent just an activity, rather than a job, is a way of trying to shrink the definition of work to a level we are comfortable with…

Athletes are generating revenue for their schools through ticket sales and broadcast fees, while their peers may be simply working for the money to pay for tuition, room and board, and books. But either way, they are participants in a system that makes a lot of money for colleges and universities, even as students spend time working rather than having an idealized and balanced college experience.

Think about all the changes that have occurred across the college athletic landscape in the last half century:  the demise of the four-year scholarship, NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, an increase in the length of the regular season, conference championship games, expanded postseasons, the joke that is “voluntary” summer practice, conference realignment and expansion, etc.  What it all adds up to is a relentless march of commercialization as academic institutions look to monetize college athletics as much as possible.

The idea that college administrators, conference commissioners and coaches are free to frolic like Scrooge McDuck in the money while insisting that student-athletes must not take part in receiving the benefits of the revenue stream as well as accepting without question the burdens placed upon them by the powers that be placating the commercial interests creating that stream is quaint at best and remarkably cynical at worst when you realize that the suits running the show are using amateurism as a sales tool to promote college athletics to the public.

That’s how you get Mark Emmert promoting the false dichotomy of “do you want to have college sports played by unionized employees of universities or do you want to have them be college students playing games?” with a straight face.  It’s either players play for love or money – nothing in between.  And he gets away with it because in loving the romance that amateurism represents, we’re willing to be deceived.

The truth is that today, big time college sports are as much a commercial enterprise as any professional sports league.  And until we’re all willing to admit that, nobody on the management side of college athletics is going to take the hard step of looking at what’s really worth preserving and moving to compromise on the rest, for the greater good.

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Mark Emmert would rather fight than switch.

Mark Emmert was on Face the Nation this morning.  It went about as well as you’d expect.

College football fans, this is why we can’t have nice things.

And keep in mind, it’s not going to improve.  If the NCAA keeps losing in court, eventually it’ll turn to Congress for relief.

So those of you opposed to unionization, ask yourselves a simple question:  how should student-athletes seek to have their grievances addressed?

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Filed under College Football, Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

Perverse afternoon question

Do you think there’d be as much energy devoted to the topic of player compensation now if they hadn’t replaced the BCS with the new playoffs?

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, Look For The Union Label

You think you’re so smart.

After watching this, I’m even more impressed with the results we got from the Montana Project.

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It’s money that they love.

Just to amplify on the threat made by the former president of Northwestern referenced in my previous post, here’s his rationale:

Bienen didn’t specifically speak about players being paid, but if the unionization is successful, that would be on the bargaining table, and critics of pay-for-play say they fear that would hurt the academic side of collegiate athletics.

Bienen alluded to that when he said a win for the players could lead private institutions with high academic standards — he specifically cited Duke and Stanford — to abandon the current model in order to preserve academic integrity.

He compared it to the pullback of the Ivy League schools decades ago, when the Ivy League conference decided to opt out of postseason play and to end athletic scholarships, preserving the emphasis on academics for the players.

How noble.  Except Duke, Northwestern and Stanford are still offering athletic scholarships, playing in the postseason and claiming that they’ve preserved academic integrity.  So how is a student-athlete union suddenly a bridge too far?

Well… since you asked, let’s study a set of figures for some clues:

  • The University of Alabama athletics department recorded a $21.2 million surplus for its 2013 fiscal year.
  • Since 2006, Alabama has reported annual surpluses totaling $106.5 million.
  • Alabama reported $143.8 million in total athletics revenue.
  • Alabama’s revenue has increased 84 percent since 2006, the year before Nick Saban became football coach.
  • The largest expense continues to be compensation for coaches, support staff and administrators, which reached $42.2 million in 2013.
  • In the 2013 fiscal year, Saban received $6,385,824 in total compensation, including salary, benefits, bonuses and third-party pay.
  • The gap between an athletic scholarship and the university’s listing of what it actually costs to attend school was $4,332 (in-state) and $5,662 (out-of-state).

As we like to say around here, one of those sets of numbers isn’t like the others.

Sure, Alabama is one of the biggest financial success stories in college athletics.  But if this were really nothing more than a fight to preserve academic integrity, why hasn’t Northwestern marched down a similar road to the one Ivy League schools chose (or, closer to home, the path the University of Chicago took long ago) and ditched the whole enchilada already?

Jerry Price, senior associate athletic director at Princeton, said that change for the Ivy League allowed those schools to maintain academic integrity in the sports where, at other schools, academics can often be compromised in the name of the game.

“It was sort of a breaking point moment,” Price said, saying the Ivy League schools made the decision not to move forward like the bigger conferences — to “draw the line with the commercialization of what football was becoming.”

Anybody really think that Northwestern has somehow managed to keep itself above the commercialization fray so far?  And that a players’ union would be the straw that breaks that particular camel’s back?

Maybe they should make a documentary about that and run it on the Big Ten Network.

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