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?
Category Archives: College Football
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.
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.
Mark Emmert was on Face the Nation this morning. It went about as well as you’d expect.
Saddest realization after listening to Mark Emmert? Intention to fight to Supreme Court rather than willingness to discuss meaningful reform—
Warren K. Zola (@WarrenKZola) March 30, 2014
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?
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?
After watching this, I’m even more impressed with the results we got from the Montana Project.
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.
The line is open.
- CFN thinks the Pruitt hire is swell.
- The next Georgia Tech stud is running back Travis Custis, who was a highly rated recruit in 2013 but had to sit out last season to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. I almost hope he pans out, just so he can provide a ready source to rag Tech fans about when they bring up academics.
- A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that a large majority of the general public opposes paying salaries to college athletes beyond the scholarships currently offered. The public is split on unionization, though. Too bad there wasn’t a poll question about players’ being compensated for their likenesses. (h/t John Infante)
- Generally, I’m not in favor of parents blocking their sons from choosing where to play college ball. But when I see a quote like this – “… It would be nice to have an offer from Oregon because of their uniforms…” – I can understand where some mommas are coming from.
- Mark Cuban can see a future when the NFL moves some of its games to Saturday. That means war!
- Hugh Freeze no doubt welcomes this development at Alabama for recruiting purposes.
- John Infante sees college football going down the same road as college basketball if the coaches don’t get their act together and come up with a more comprehensive approach to reforming recruiting rules.
I’m not really sure how I came across this, but, hell, it’s worth sharing. Speaking about the 2012 presidential campaigns, some experts posited an interesting observation about the role college football played.
What do Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin (states that were neither solidly Democrat nor Republican) have in common? The audience will tell you that these states not only gave their electoral votes to Obama but also possess some of the largest concentration of college football fans. Now one might ask – is this merely coincidental or does a link really exist? If it does, what should we make of it? Do college football fans love Obama more than Romney? Not necessarily. Did Obama outspend Romney in his purchase of ad time during televised coverage of college football games? While it is certainly true that Obama had a tremendous advantage in the number of ads placed during college football games, any good political scientist who is vigilant about spinning a causality story will not conclude that Obama won the election because he did more to appeal to college football fans than did Romney. What they can conclude however, is that Obama’s advertising activities during college football season were part of an overall campaign effort that differed remarkably from that of Romney not only in terms of strategies but also in terms of goals and objectives.
Say what you will about the man’s politics, he knew how to campaign effectively. So what is it about college football that Obama’s camp found useful in reaching potential voters? And what, if anything, did Romney’s folks miss about that?
John Infante believes we’re on the verge of seeing the spring game disappear as an annual event.
All over the country coaches are doing away with spring games. Texas A&M was forced to by renovations to Kyle Field. But Oklahoma State and Pitt did so voluntarily. This is becoming a trend and it will likely be a terminal one for this annual spring tradition.
Why? It’s a victim of mandated time constraints.
The spring game is counted as one of the 15 practice sessions that make up spring practice. In addition to the overall limit of 15, no more than 12 sessions can include contact. Of the 12 contact sessions, only eight can including tackling. And of the eight tackling sessions, only three can devote more than 50% of the time to 11-on–11 scrimmaging. Spring games obviously count as one of those three scrimmages.
So it makes sense that coaches are moving away from a fan- or competition-focused spring game to an open practice or doing away with it entirely. Coaches have precious little time to work with their team in the spring. Unlike other sports this is the only skill instruction coaches can provide between the end of the football season and the start of fall camp. Not only does a spring game take away from this time generally, it takes away from the most limited subset of this time, 11-on–11 scrimmaging that includes tackling.
And time may become even more constrained.
As limited as that time is, it could be getting even more limited as well. If contact during practice needs to be reduced for safety reasons, one of the easiest places to try and reduce it will be in spring practice. 12 sessions with contact might become eight, eight sessions of tackling might become four, and three scrimmages might become two, one, or none.
Infante mentions changing the spring game to a meeting between schools (an idea I’ve always liked) as a way to save it, but if player safety concerns grow, I don’t see how an inter-school scrimmage helps. It’s sad, but the only thing I can come up with to counter Infante’s argument is that ESPN sure likes the added broadcast product it’s gotten from these glorified scrimmages over the past few years. Is that enough?
The spring game is a beloved tradition, particularly in our neck of the woods. But like so many things driving college football these days, ultimately it won’t be about what we fans want. That doesn’t mean we won’t miss it if it goes.