Envy and jealousy: unionization and the unintended consequences game

One of the well-used arguments against unionization is the Pandora’s Box.  Let student-athletes form a union and it’ll be an invitation for all kinds of trouble – Title IX, taxes, you name it.  Things will be worse and nobody’s thought that through!  How can unionization possibly go ahead before all the peripheral questions are answered?

Brian Phillips neatly skewers that line of reasoning.

Fine, but do we have to pay squash players? And what happens to athletes’ student status if they’re also employees? Can they be fired? What if some teams vote to unionize and some teams don’t? And what about tax implications? What about Title IX?

I have no idea! One of the neat strategies you’ll see the NCAA’s defenders deploy in the wake of the Northwestern ruling is to start throwing out a million practical questions that have yet to be resolved, as though, if you can’t immediately answer all of them, they must be totally impossible to solve. “I don’t know what happens to their meal cards!” you’re supposed to cry in this situation, throwing your hands up to the heavens. “Therefore change is futile and I have no choice but to agree that the student-athlete system is the key to success in the classroom, on the field, and in life!”

But this is ludicrous. Reform of a big organization like the NCAA is inevitably going to involve a lot of tough questions. Maybe Ultimate Frisbee at Middlebury isn’t a job in the same way basketball at Kentucky is. Maybe some provision will be necessary to make sure women’s sports are treated fairly. But you know what? People build multinational corporations and reasonably functional democracies. People deal with trickier problems than college-sports revenue distribution all the time. Raising objections as though the mere existence of practical difficulties shuts down the conversation is the stalling tactic of an exhausted debater. It’s the move of someone with nothing left to defend.

Of course, it’s possible that college football is run by people who really aren’t capable of dealing with tricky problems.  (Mark Emmert, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.)  Even that doesn’t mean you don’t try, though.

Anyway, good stuff, nicely put.


Filed under Envy and Jealousy

76 responses to “Envy and jealousy: unionization and the unintended consequences game

  1. DawgPhan

    Won’t someone please think about the kids *

    I just think that these kids deserve a little more old fashioned freedom. Why are so many of you against freedom? And America?

    • Macallanlover

      Perhaps our view of “America”, and “freedom” vary dramatically from your take on those two subjects. I am proud to say my does. And there are so many great examples of how the union mentality has improved anything at all. Let me see….OK, I will have to get back with you, seems it is another “feel warm and fuzzy” concept that may have been well intended but failed the market test. The union worker, capable of bringing productivity down to record lows and killing personal accountability. It takes a village, right? Let’s plant that seed in young people as quickly as possible, that’s part of the strategy isn’t it?

      • DawgPhan

        I love freedom. I want freedom to spread to student athletes. Why are you against more freedom for student athletes?

        • Macallanlover

          Personally, I don’t think the subject is about freedom at all; it is about correcting some pretty obvious wrongs in the treatment of CFB players and addressing safety issues. I don’t think forming a union is what is needed, and I don’t feel unionization is relevant in today’s time at all. Bad management doesn’t equate to “let’s form a union” to make changes. That has been a negative way of addressing issues, imo, and has a failing grade in the marketplace. I feel it would be disastrous in collegiate athletics.

          • DawgPhan

            So you are against the people trying to wrestle freedom away from tyrants by any means necessary. Me, I love freedom and I wish more people could have access to it.

          • Hackerdog

            Normally, I’m all for the market correcting itself. And a free market will do so. But the NCAA doesn’t operate in a free market. Georgia and Oklahoma had to go to the Supreme Court to be allowed to negotiate their own TV contracts. And the NCAA is supposed to operate for the benefit of the schools. If two of the schools had to sue for fair treatment, what chance do the kids have?

      • The reality of unions today differs from those of its predecessors who helped bring an end to 12 hr 7 days a week work shifts in dangerous conditions with little pay. Are there different ways students can gain leverage with the NCAA, academic institutions and their corporate overlords? Not saying unions are the only way, but its gotten so warped, it had to start somewhere.

        • Or there could be a very real chance I am missing the sarcasm in this thread…

        • Hackerdog

          While I support the notion of a college athletic union, I have a question on the accepted history of unions, in general. If unions, rather than automation and mechanization, are the reason why American workers became better paid than they had been in the past, why were European workers, who were more unionized than American workers, paid less than Americans? Also, at the height of union membership, only about a third of American workers were members. But the other two thirds also became better paid. Why is that?

          • Fair enough. In your opinion, what would be a more effective way for students to address these issues?

            • Hackerdog

              As I wrote earlier, within the current system, I think a union is probably the best option. Outside the current system, I’m not sure. It’s quite possible that throwing out the entire rulebook and concept of amateurism and letting kids hire out their services to the highest bidder wouldn’t result in any noticeable changes to the product of college football on the field. But something in between might be the best compromise.

      • As someone said here the other day, the reaction around here would be a lot different if they called themselves Confederation of Student-Athletes or something along those lines, instead of a Union.

      • Dog in Fla

        “that’s part of the strategy isn’t it?”

        No. Here’s the strategy:

        “Tomorrow we shall occupy the trade-union buildings. There will be little resistance (William Shirer, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p. 179).”


      • Hackerdog

        I agree with Macallanlover. Just look at the professional football, baseball, and basketball unions. As soon as those players gained some freedom, the quality of the product went straight to hell. I mean, how much harder would Michael Jordan tried to win if he hadn’t belonged to a union? Do you know why the Denver Broncos lost their Superbowl against Seattle? Because Peyton Manning is in a union, that’s why.

        The only truly American way for power to be distributed in college sports is for rich coaches, school administrators, and NCAA bureaucrats to have all of it and for the players to have none. God bless ‘Merica.

  2. Sounds a lot like “We have to pass it to see what’s in it”. 😉

    I get the point, but one of the biggest criticisms people have lobbed at the NCAA, including here on this blog, is doing things without considering the possible unintended consequences.

    Which is not to say we should do nothing, I get that his ultimate point is that we shouldn’t do nothing simply because we don’t know all the answers, and I agree. But I also don’t think that trying to consider the unintended consequences can be written off as nothing more than a stall tactic or a “move of someone with nothing left to defend”.

    • Spence

      That’s not the point. When someone says “there may be unintened consequences so let’s not do anything,” that is very different than saying “we will do something but let’s really consider this thing and the unintended consequences.”

      • Agreed, that’s what I was trying to get at in the first sentence of the last paragraph. But just like some people will go to the extreme of saying “Well we can’t do ANYTHING until we get all these questions answered”, which is annoying, it will be equally annoying if anytime somebody brings up a possible unintended consequence, somebody from the other side is saying “Oh so in your opinion we just shouldn’t do anything AT ALL”. I’m just trying to find some balance between the two.

        As DWDawg referenced below, the extreme opinions make productive discussion very difficult to accomplish. (Not implying that your post was stating an extreme opinion, it didn’t at all).

    • Gaskilldawg

      The reality is that even if every college’s athletes become unionized the colleges will have greater power in bargaining. If bargaining causes “pusdification of America ” and destruction of the sport we love the management team will be at fault for caving in.
      I figure both sides will protect their interests in negotiations. In the end results will be something both sides can live with.

    • Russ

      Bingo! Exactly my thoughts, too. We (rightfully) lambast the NCAA for all their half-baked plans. No need to make the same mistakes if we can avoid them.

    • Gravidy

      “Pass it to see what’s in it”. You beat me to it, Rev.

      • Dog in Fla

        Both Obamacare and the collective bargaining effort will result in better healthcare for those concussed, fractured and otherwise maimed in the line of duty

        • Hackerdog

          Because if you can’t trust Pelosi to know what’s best for us, who can we trust? Ourselves? It is to laugh.

        • Gravidy

          That’s a very ballsy, declarative statement, DIF. It is the sort of statement I only make when I know I’m right because I hate to be wrong. It bothers me, so I make sure it doesn’t happen very much. Personally, I don’t see how you “know” that to be right. So…you are either a lot more informed than I am on both subjects, or you are venting your wishful thinking with no regard to whether you are right or wrong. If I had to bet on one of those options, I’d place my money on the latter.

          • Dog in Fla

            Far be it from me to ever make a ballsy, declarative statement. That would be so unlike me. I guess there’s always a chance I could be wrong. But I caveat that remote possibility with the fact that I can see into the future as well as the past. I see that the NCAA and the NFL/NBA Feeder Programs are going to be forced to provide social and economic justice to their awesome student-athlete inventory and that Obamacare will be every bit as sucessful as the Romneycare legislation upon which it was based. I can also see that our defense, but not our offense, will be better next season than it was last season.

            • Gravidy

              More declarative sentences, this time on the offense and defense. You are far more confident in your ability to predict the future than I am in mine. I hope you are right about the defense, but I wouldn’t bet a nickel on it. I’m inclined to agree with you about the offense, but still not willing to get all ballsy with my predictions.

            • Hackerdog

              If you consider people accepting free a product an example of successful public policy, then I think you have a very simplistic definition of successful. If you consider a state having the highest health insurance premiums in the country an example of successful public policy, then I think you have an incorrect definition of successful.

              But, other than that, I agree that Romneycare was certainly something. I expect similar results for Obamacare.

  3. DawgPhan

    There is a billion dollar product at stake. Both sides will want to maintain the golden goose and look to fatten it.

    The “they will have to pay taxes and be fired” comments followed by “and I will quit watching” are not lets proceed slowly comments, they are I dont like this so I am going to complain comments.

  4. ASEF

    Communism! There, that oughta fix things.

  5. DWDawg

    There are more than two sides to this. Unionization and pro-NCAA are not the limits of discussion here. It is not a “you’re either with me or you’re against me” situation. It’s hard to have constructive discussions on anything these days because so many people take “I’m willing to die on this hill” stances before the talks even begin.

    • Cojones

      And those words apply to the Senator. “I’m willing to die on this hill” or to be dismissive of other ideas because you don’t have any answers either. Senator, if you haven’t looked for unintended consequences or can’t solve inherent problems before proceeding then we can look forward to you accepting the unforseen consequences of distributing wages to college athletes equitably. Have at it!.

      • Tell me what the unforeseen consequences are to letting kids control the marketing of their names and likenesses. Or no longer abusing the 20 hours per week rule. Other than offending Corch’s delicate sensibilities, that is.

        Once again, the overarching point here isn’t that either extreme is right. It’s that you can’t solve any problems until you at least try to tackle them. If I’m not mistaken, that’s what negotiated settlements are for.

        • Not sure if you saw the other day, but I mentioned it a bit back…
          “Tell me what the unforeseen consequences are to letting kids control the marketing of their names and likenesses”
          Nike all of a sudden is willing to offer nice pay you right now shoe deals for signing with Oregon. The Yella Feller starts putting anyone willing to sign with Auburn in his commercials for a nice fee. You create an easy path for boosters to pay players.

          • Again, the NCAA monitors booster payments. Why can’t it do so in this area?

            • What framework would you propose for acceptable contracts in these situations? (asking seriously, not a snark). The parameters of what is an acceptable agreement would color my opinion on the matter, for the reasons I outlined below (trying to limit contract sizes and so forth).

              • Subject to rules about boosters, whatever the market will bear seems like a good place to start.

                • Ok but how would market value be determined up front, and given that markets are going to vary due to a number of reasons, how do you determine if a contract goes “too far” above market value for punishment purposes, if the business insists that the contract is worth it to them in their market?

                  And if the contract is purely between the athlete and a third party, with the school not involved at all, who gets punished for offenses, especially chronic offenses with athletes from the same school, but potentially a number of different businesses? Does the school escape all responsibility, with their only punishment being the consequences of the players receiving punishments from the NCAA (athletes being unavailable due to suspensions and so forth)? It seems to me the potential compliance issues would dwarf anything going on today from a compliance standpoint.

                  And I keep adding this qualifier, but again I am not against what they are pushing for in theory. Just trying to look at it from all angles.

                  • First of all, you let kids hire agents. Second, you make the NCAA certify agents, backed by the threat of de-certification if a deal winds up being outside agreed upon parameters. That threat ought to carry some weight with guys who don’t want to be cut off from a significant clientele.

                    I think school involvement is necessary. I also think schools deserve a portion of the revenue stream for the compliance risk/expense.

                    • Ok that makes sense, that’s what I was getting at when I asked what your proposed framework would be. I agree that having certified agents would help contain the chaos. I still see a lot of potential for abuse – agents are praised for raising the market, it would be hard to ever argue that a contract is out of line, above market value, the argument would just be that the market has gone up (unless the number were egregious). You’d essentially be setting up a professional market with no salary cap, and the Bama’s of the world would just outspend everyone even moreso than they already do.

                      I just think the only way you could do it and manage it is to have set maximums for various contracts (autographs, radio spots, tv commercials, etc). If there are set numbers, then enforcement is simplified a thousand fold. I just don’t know that it would stand up in court if ever challenged (and eventually it would be). Although salary caps have not been challenged in court I don’t think, I guess you could argue that the set maximums would just be a de facto salary cap.

                    • I think some of what you’re suggesting might be considered price fixing. The remedy for that is treble damages. Probably not a can of worms the NCAA would want to open.

                    • You are probably right about the price fixing. Which if they can’t do that, then again that leads me back to the issues of essentially having a market with no salary cap. I still say lots of potential unintended consequences, but maybe people smarter than me figure all that out.

                • Except that puts more faith than I’m willing to have in the NCAA being even handed and consistent in rulings on what is or isn’t market rates, and boosters not doing everything they can to skew those numbers to suit them. Alabama memorabilia dealers can likely offer better payouts than folks that deal in Wahoo stuff, or Gamecock stuff, or Georgia stuff.

                  to keep it short, essentially I can see how you’d make a common sense way to deal with such a thing, but I’ve got no faith in the powers that being having anywhere near that level of intelligence, sensibility, or capability.

                  • Then it’s up to the parties involved to negotiate a better enforcement structure, isn’t it?

                    • And the parties involved are school presidents, and others who gave us the NCAA and all the rest of the crap we now get. Let’s just enjoy what we have while we still can I guess, cause it’s going to get ruined one way or another considering who calls the shots. We’re doomed, Senator, DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEED!!!!!

            • 81Dog

              so your answer is “let the NCAA handle more responsibility for athletes and money”? AJ Green says that is working pretty well so far.🙂

          • And it would be hard to place limits on it, if they attempted to keep it even across the board. As soon they say “Ok, you can trade on your name and likeness, but you can only be paid $X for autographs, $XYZ for appearing in a tv commercial, etc,” then the argument from the player side immediately goes from “Who are you to tell me I can’t make money off my own name and likeness?” to “Who are you to limit HOW MUCH i can make off my own name and likeness?”. Again, slippery, slippery slope with lots of potential for corruption.

            Though I guess one could argue that at least some of the corruption would be going in the favor of the players, for once. But there are definitely potential unintended consequences that are worth consideration. You don’t have to answer all the questions ahead of time, but the more you CAN answer, the better in the long run.

        • Tell me what the unforeseen consequences are to letting kids control the marketing of their names and likenesses.

          It opens another avenue for boosters to funnel money to players. It wouldn’t be that difficult to set up a scenario where players get royalties for selling random items somehow tied to their likeness, and boosters make sure those royalties are higher than what school B was offering. That affects competitive balance and begins an ever-escalating booster war that ultimately ruins the United States economy. I’m not so sure about the last part, but you have to admit that would be unforeseen.

          • Is there some reason the NCAA can’t monitor that payment stream? How is that any different from other payments by boosters that are prohibited?

            • AusDawg85

              Did you just suggest the NCAA would be able to police this fairly, promptly and accurately? (AJ Green..cough…cough). So that’s problem #1 with a bullet. #2 becomes MY rights as a fan. If I want to pay Gurley $20 for his autograph and the NCAA says no, I’m a booster, that’s BS.

              It’s not that I disagree with you on the philosophy of athletes have the right to own their image and likeness and market/profit accordingly, but I really can’t envision a world that permits this without even MORE rampant corruption, cheating and general Auburness about it.

              I think the NCAA will really need to get the hell out of the way and go back to just being a sports rules body, not a marketing entity. A different set of rules and governance will need to be developed for the money side.

              • So what you’re saying is that the NCAA should be able to prohibit kids from getting paid because the NCAA can’t figure out how to monitor it? Damn, that’s convenient.

                • 81Dog

                  I think what he’s saying is if you can’t be fairly sure the solution won’t be worse than the problem to be solved, you shouldn’t just figure it will all work out fine. That sounds like jumping off the high dive without checking for water in the pool, because you figure someone will solve the problem before you land.

                  • That sounds wonderfully wise in the abstract, but the reality is that the NCAA and its membership grow dangerously close to losing control over things, in which case the luxury of figuring things out will no longer be an option. The sensible path to take now is to admit it’s time to sit down and explore what the problems, solutions and consequences are with the mindset of trying to reach common ground.

                    • 81Dog

                      I thnk you just said “we can’t wait for the guy on the board to jump, because the line is really long and people are getting impatient for it to move.”

                      I am all for a discussion of a way to move forward. I understand the complaint of NCAA foot dragging, stalling, etc, but I dont think their baser motives obviate the need to have an actual plan. Unless, of course, you’re the US Congress.

                    • How can you have a plan if one side won’t negotiate?

                    • 81Dog

                      well, you can’t have a negotiation without at least two parties, but nobody says you can’t present a plan from one side or the other. Prudent parties would look at the other side’s plan and then negotiate details based on that framework. Stupid parties just keep saying no (I’m looking at you, NCAA). Of course, the “we have to do something different” faction doesn’t really seem to have a plan at this point, either, other than “Change!”

                      if the NCAA was smart, they’d be proposing a plan, and asking the other side to present THEIR plan. Right now, it seems like all that’s really happening is one side is bleating “change” and the other side is saying “no.” I usually advise my clients to have some idea what they’re agreeing to before they agree to accept the other side’s offer, but this may be why I’m not in a corner office at King and Spalding: no creative vision.

                    • Present a plan… hmm… that’s a good idea. I wonder why nobody’s thought of that before.

                    • 81Dog

                      well, there are certainly some concrete proposals there. But there are also a few vague “make things better” bullet points, too. I’m not carrying the NCAA’s water here. If they decide to ride their position right off a cliff, that’s on them. On the other hand, most contracts kind of proceed from the standpoint of of “we dont have a deal until we agree on all the terms.” Given the rather large areas of unspecified goals, I certainly agree they’d be smart to try and nail that down instead of ignoring it all. I just dont see why they should take it on faith that “it’ll all work out eventually.” My experience suggests otherwise, but YMMV.

                    • There’s at least enough there for “a discussion of a way to move forward”. 😉

                • AusDawg85

                  I clearly didn’t say that…like others have posted, I just have ZERO faith in the NCAA to enforce anything logically, fairly, transparently or effectively. If the member institutions at first decide to continue to let their collective bargaining association (the NCAA) deal with this issue and set standards, the money involved will quickly unwind their willingness to maintain membership. Sure, UGA got screwed on the AJ situation, and it might have even cost us some money. Less so with Kolton Houston. But screw-up a deal with our next Heisman candidate that costs the school millions (while some agent gets the money instead, all within the NCAA “rules”). and we’ll be screaming for a way to set our own rules. Let that happen at several big schools and the revolt will be on. We saw this in the 80’s over TV rights, how will this not be a similar story?

                  It’s far too utopian to think this is going to end with a cost of living adjustment to scholarships, or letting Todd Gurley work at Starbucks after morning workouts, or even letting the next Johnny Football do a car commercial. Once the class action law firms are done laying waste to the NCAA cartel, we’ll likely have nothing left that resembles college football.

                  If you and I disagree, then is this the part where I write bigoted stuff, insult your profession, and dis your blog?😉 Or maybe I have to be from SC to do that.

                  • Once the class action law firms are done laying waste to the NCAA cartel, we’ll likely have nothing left that resembles college football.

                    All the more reason for the NCAA to get its head out of its ass and work something out now, right?

                    Look I get the lack of faith bit. Completely. But desperate times sometimes lead to valid reforms. And if the NCAA isn’t capable of reforming itself into something credible, find another organization that will be. Make the attempt, or die trying. Because the alternative, as you admit, ain’t gonna be pretty.

            • The NCAA relies on the schools (and Yahoo reporters, etc.) to do a big part of this monitoring for them with compliance threats. If the players can earn money for their likenesses according to what the market will bear, what would be illegal about payments made by boosters then?

              What if you set up a scenario where the school gets a portion of the deal? You sell pictures with a player’s autograph through the school for $50 each. The school and the player each split a portion based on the marketability of the player, and suddenly the school no longer has a reason to give a shit who is buying 200 copies of the same picture of a true freshman that hasn’t played a down as long as that revenue stream keeps popping money in their coffers, too.

              Schools are already selling memorabilia at a pretty good clip. If fans could more closely correlate buying memorabilia through the school to payoffs for getting players to their school, the sales would skyrocket.

              So how do you limit it? Do you cap the percentage of royalties a player can receive? That sounds like collusion, but otherwise you would have Auburn offering 60% royalties where Alabama was offering 55%. That sets up a pseudo-free agent market for signees. Do you keep the exclusive marketing rights clause in the scholarship contract, or is that done away with? Do we just open it up all the way and let the boosters spend themselves silly? I don’t know.

              I’m not advocating one way or the other. I am just going down the road of what consequences may come. It is also possible that this would not happen.

  6. I Wanna Red Cup

    The point here is that so far the NCAA is not even willing to talk. That is what led to O’Bannon getting where it is and the kids at Northwestern making their move. Meanwhile, Emmert and crew go on printing money and keeping their heads up their asses. When will they wake up and face/address the problems ?

    • Your first sentence is spot on.

      I fall into the camp that (A) In general, I don’t like unions. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general I believe they do more harm than good. (B) However, I do support most of the issues currently being put forward by the unionization movement. (C) And this is the big one, because of the NCAA’s stance, I can’t think of any other viable solution the athletes have to get those issues addressed.

      So without being able to offer a better solution, it’s hard for me to take a stance against them unionizing, despite my opinion in (A) above. I guess the cognitive dissonance is what’s driving me towards the middle ground in these discussions.

      • Debby Balcer

        Totally agree with you. The arrogance of the NCAA is what is causing the issue. They need to get over themselves.

      • 69Dawg

        +1 I think the Union matter is just the type of hand grenade that needed to be lobbed at the NCAA and it’s member institutions. Remember the 5 largest conferences are pretty much on board with the intent of the Union so the NCAA is faced with a lack of membership support. This bold act will speed up the Power 5’s take over of their own fate. The NCAA in the mean time has all it can handle with O’Bannon. The blood is in the water and the sharks are circling, the union just provided the chum.

    • Dog in Fla

      “When will they wake up and face/address the problems?”

      During the CSI after the stake has been driven through its heart.

      NCAA Media Relations spokesperson Stacey Osborn will still be unavailable for comment. In the meantime, some fear that a coup attempt on Stacey’s twitter feed has resulted in a “Subway™ Eat Fresh and Freeze®” disinformation campaign regarding the profit-taking maneuvers led by Emmert and Remy

  7. diving duck

    coo coo catchoo, mark emert.

  8. Dog in Fla

    “People deal with trickier problems than college-sports revenue distribution all the time.”

    Why not deal with it in real-time like the L.P.D. does in low-speed pursuits

    “Stop right there!” I yelled as I ran. He was faster than me because I always try to avoid stepping on public sidewalks. Our country needs a private-sidewalk voucher system, but, thanks to the incestuous interplay between our corrupt federal government and the public-sidewalk lobby, it will never happen.

    I was losing him. “Listen, I’ll pay you to stop!” I yelled. “What would you consider an appropriate price point for stopping? I’ll offer you a thirteenth of an ounce of gold and a gently worn ‘Bob Barr ‘08’ extra-large long-sleeved men’s T-shirt!”


    • Ha!!! Got a good laugh out of that one. I’d like to see an extreme Democrat and an extreme Republican version of it too. Just shows none of us has all the answers.

      I have long maintained, however, that Congress would function much better if it was about 10-15% Libertarian. Just enough to actually force all sides to have to sit down and come up with some creative solutions. Otherwise Republicans would lose every social issue and Democrats would lose every fiscal issue.

      • Dog in Fla

        “Just shows none of us has all the answers.”

        Except that secondhand smoke is a myth. Philip Morris USA Inc.

        • Macallanlover

          No, second hand smoke is real, proof of any harmful effects from that is the myth. But that has never stopped organized groups from driving that right past everyone with zero facts. Why ask? The media told us so. Hate to bring that up because very few folks really care about the truth…just what they want to believe or have been told to believe. By the way, salt and large sodas are OK too….but don’t tell Herr Bloomberg. Nanny State knows all, now take your meds.