Okay, it turns out I was wrong about something. NCAA rules do allow for player fines. (h/t John Infante)
Institutional financial aid based in any degree on athletics ability may be reduced or canceled during the period of the award or reduced or not renewed for the following academic year or years of the student-athlete’s five-year period of eligibility if the recipient:
… (e) Violates a nonathletically related condition outlined in the financial aid agreement or violates a documented institutional rule or policy (e.g., academics policies or standards, athletics department or team rules or policies).
So, it means that Virginia Tech and Cincinnati can pursue a course of fining players, if they so choose.
And if they’re careful to read the fine print there.
In order to avoid legal repercussions, the use of these funds for discipline must be written into the grant-in-aid agreements that are the basis for any athletic scholarship. The option must be a part of the scholarship transaction from the moment the athlete agrees to attend the university.
Unless the possibility of a fine is an express provision, there can be no withholding of such funds regardless of the conduct. Just like expulsion from the school or suspension from the team, the penalties for misconduct must be described in the agreement with specificity. If not, the school that fined a player would be subject to legal actions for breach of an agreement or for money damages as the result of tortious (wrongful) treatment of a player.
In addition, the grant-in-aid agreement must include a procedure for an appeal by the athletes just as it does for other disciplinary actions. The appeal is a bit of due process that is of benefit both to the athlete and to the school.
Munson goes on to note that it seems Cincinnati has indeed crossed all its Ts and dotted all its Is in that regard. The Hokies, however, I’m gonna guess not so much, based on the athletic director’s comments.
Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said he “had no idea” that football players were being assessed fines for violations like missing team meetings or being late for meals, and says the practice has been “discontinued” effective immediately.
Images from a television monitor outside the Hokies’ players’ lounge on Wednesday night listed what appeared to be a fine structure and named players who had already been assessed fines.
Now, a couple of things come to mind here. The first is that while it may be within the NCAA rule structure to do this, following the rule is a lot different from being smart. I can only imagine the hay waiting to be made on the recruiting trail with this news from, say, an Auburn recruiter chasing some élite prospect from the Virginia Beach area. Indeed, now Virginia Tech is likely to face the fallout of defending a practice it no longer follows. Have fun with that, Coach Foster.
But here’s the tough part to understand. Munson says for the protocol to fine players to comply with NCAA rules to be permissible, it has to be clearly set forth in the financial aid agreement the school has the player sign. Except the player isn’t allowed to have legal representation at that point. How something like that might stand up in a court of law, I’m not sure. And you’d think somebody like Jeffrey Kessler would want to know.
Then again, Kessler might be successful enough waiving pictures of the TV screen from the VT players lounge in support of his clients’ lawsuit that it would be a moot point.
The really funny thing is that coaches like Foster and Tuberville really don’t care if the law sees these kids as student-athletes or players getting paid, i.e., employees. They just care that they’re allowed to have enough control over them, in whatever form or fashion works. But I doubt their bosses see that the same way. Which probably explains why Whit Babcock got his ass in high gear when he got the news.