Category Archives: Look For The Union Label

“It’s not a fine. It’s not a threat. It’s a tool.”

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.

12 Comments

Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

Disunion

The National Labor Relations Board announced that it will not uphold the lower office ruling that Northwestern players are employees of their school, which obviously means they can’t unionize.

The grounds it chose to stake that position are interesting.

Just as the nature of league sports and the NCAA’s oversight renders individual team bargaining problematic, the way that FBS football itself is structured and the nature of the colleges and universities involved strongly suggest that asserting jurisdiction in this case would not  promote stability in labor relations. Despite the similarities between FBS football and professional sports leagues, FBS is also a markedly different type of enterprise. In particular, of the roughly 125 colleges and universities that participate in FBS football, all but 17 are state-run institutions. As a result, the Board cannot assert jurisdiction over the vast majority of FBS teams because they are not operated by “employers” within the meaning of Section 2(2) of the Act.

In other words, the unique nature of college football saved itself here.  And so there is an indirect warning from the Board in the event the sport presents itself with a more unified structure in the future.

Further, we are declining jurisdiction only in this case involving the football players at Northwestern University; we therefore do not address what the Board’s approach might be to a petition for all FBS scholarship football players (or at least those at private colleges and universities).

There is no doubt that this is a big win for the NCAA and schools in the short term.  But in the longer term, there are some fascinating tradeoffs they may face, particularly if Kessler prevails in his litigation.  That’s a subject we’ll perhaps visit at another time, though.  In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and see if Stacey Osburn has any comment.

6 Comments

Filed under Look For The Union Label

Just a reminder, kids.

When a coach says, “I don’t want to sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth…”, he usually is.

4 Comments

Filed under Look For The Union Label

Over their dead bodies

Word comes down that the NLRB will soon issue its ruling on the Northwestern players’ bid to unionize.  And with that, Andy Schwarz’ piece asking if Stanford would really follow through on its claim of moving to Division III to avoid the consequences of that is worth rereading.

Man, between Stanford and the Big Ten, D-III football could be all the rage soon.

11 Comments

Filed under Look For The Union Label

“There’s a real issue of unequal bargaining power.”

“In life, there are principles and people need to be held accountable to responsibility,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner told Sporting News. “You have to be a man of your word.”

The rebuttal to Josh Pastner pretty much writes itself, doesn’t it?

7 Comments

Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

The Pac-12’s big maybe

Boy, if there was ever a “devil is in the details” proposal, this is it.

The Pac-12 is believed to be the first conference to direct schools to pay post-college medical costs for sports-related injuries that an athlete suffered at their school. What eligibility criteria is used by Pac-12 schools will help determine how much help former athletes receive and at what costs without people abusing the benefit. The new practice could also set a blueprint for the NCAA or other conferences to follow or avoid.

Pac-12 schools must provide direct medical expenses for at least four years following the athlete’s graduation or separation from the university, or until the athlete turns 26 years old, whichever occurs first. The timeframe for coverage was chosen in part because by the age of 26 a person is covered by the Affordable Care Act.

There’s a “but” coming, I can feel it.

Each school will establish its own policies and procedures to determine who is eligible for the benefit. The conference office has no role in oversight, leaving Pac-12 schools to figure out the best approach.

Let the head scratching commence.

“It’s going to be hard to calculate,” Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said. “When was the injury created? How will we do it? We want to do the right thing and try to help out, and wherever it lands I’m going to support it. But I’m not sure right now what that is.”

The Pac-12 bylaw states that a school’s policies to determine eligibility “may include the required disclosure of pre-existing conditions not related to participation in intercollegiate athletics, mandatory reporting of injuries suffered during athletics participation at the institution, required participation in an exit physical upon graduation or separation from the institution, and other criteria that an institution deems appropriate.” In other words, Pac-12 schools are on their own to figure this out.

“It’s such a difficult thing to wrap your head around because what’s continuation of a problem and what’s a new problem?” Arizona athletic trainer Randy Cohen said. “How do you handle people who continue to do activities and maybe you recommend they don’t continue doing that? We really want to take care of these kids. But at what point is it the risk of playing sports and having injuries versus we hurt you?”

Most likely, Pac-12 schools will use exit medical evaluations of players to determine eligibility and buy insurance policies that carry stipulations, such as for in-network and out-of-network coverage. However, Cohen said finding insurance to cover an injury for four years out is difficult because most providers want a condition treated within two years. Cohen said Arizona will likely add four years to its insurance plan at a cost of a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, and require that for athletes to have costs covered they show a preexisting injury, undergo a departing physical when leaving the college, and demonstrate they followed recommendations for their health.

Cohen, who chairs the college committee for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, rattles off potential challenges to managing the Pac-12 rule. What if an ex-player elects for surgery against the wishes of medical experts who say surgery will only make the injury worse? Is the school responsible for that surgery and if the injury worsens? Does the university get portrayed as the bad guy in the media if the former player tells the public the school wouldn’t pay its costs?

How should caring for mental health related to concussions be treated? If a school agrees with research that shows hits to the head can cause long-term brain damage, that degenerative process might not occur until after the Pac-12’s four-year window. So should there be payments to the athlete if dementia occurs 20 years later?

What if a gymnast tore an ACL in college that leaves her with an arthritic knee, she runs marathons two years later, and tells the school her knee is bothering her and needs to be treated? Then what if a 225-pound football player left college saying his knee felt fine, blew up to 300 pounds after his career ended and has a bad knee while mainly sitting on the couch?

“Do I not take care of the girl when she’s exercising and making it worse, but I take care of the guy who’s doing absolutely nothing and gaining 75 pounds?” Cohen asked. “Most people logically would say if you’re doing something that aggregates the knee, don’t pay them. But on the other end, if the guy does nothing to help his knee, how do I balance those two? We don’t want to encourage people not to have active lives after they’ve stopped playing. I don’t have an answer to that.”

At some point in time, you figure these guys are just gonna throw up their hands and decide it’ll be easier to deal with a players’ union.

6 Comments

Filed under Look For The Union Label, Pac-12 Football, The Body Is A Temple

Monday morning buffet

Man, it’s already the first of June.

18 Comments

Filed under Academics? Academics., Arkansas Is Kind Of A Big Deal, Gators, Gators..., Georgia Football, Look For The Union Label, Science Marches Onward, See You In Court, The Blogosphere, Whoa, oh, Alabama