Category Archives: Look For The Union Label

Meltdown coming.

Hoo, boy.  This ought to be something.


UPDATE:  “That’s what makes America great,” Richt said at his weekly news conference, “and I think that he handled it well.”


UPDATE #2:  And now, the players.

The power wielded by Missouri’s football program did not go unnoticed inside Georgia’s practice facility.

“It’s extremely powerful, that athletics, students on the football team, could have that much of an impact,” senior tight end Jay Rome said.

Rome said he’d consider partaking in a football boycott if the situation was important and called for it…

… With the Missouri football team helping campus protesters achieve the ouster of Wolfe and Loftin, Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell said it shows the kind of platform that college athletes can have when it comes to taking a stand on an issue.

“I think that opens the door for a lot of teams to come together and rally behind whatever it is they stand for,” Mitchell said. “The football team is its own community on universities – and obviously with a lot of power as we saw in Missouri. I think we’ll see that more often now.”


Filed under Georgia Football, Look For The Union Label

“Gary did about the only thing he could do.”

It’s not about us, we just wanted to use our platform to take a stance for a fellow concerned student on an issue, especially being as though a fellow black man’s life was on the line,” Missouri defensive back Ian Simon said while flanked by wide receiver J’Mon Moore and defensive end Charles Harris. “Due to the end of the hunger strike, we will be ending our solidarity strike to not practice and returning to our normal schedule as football players. It is a privilege to be playing for the University of Missouri’s football team and we are very thankful for this opportunity. We love the game, but at the end of the day, it is just that — a game.

“Through this experience, we’ve really began to bridge that gap between student and athlete in the phrase student-athlete by connecting with the community and realizing the bigger picture. We will continue to build with the community and support positive change on Mizzou’s campus. Though we don’t experience everything the general student body does and our struggles may look different at times, we are all Concerned Student 1950.”

“Let this be a testament to all athletes across the country,” Harris said. “That you do have power. It started with a few individuals on our team and look at what it has become, look at where it’s at right now. This is nationally known and it started with just a few.”

And that’s the scary part, if you are a sports administrator now.  As an athletic director at a school in a Power Five conference (“The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.” – no shit, Sherlock.) told USA TODAY Sports,

“That’s the scary part about it. Something can come out of nowhere in a hurry.”

The person, as well as an athletic director at another Power Five conference school, separately emphasized the need, more than ever before, for proactive and consistent communication with student-athletes.

The first athletic director’s initial reaction was: “Man, I’m glad it’s not me — and then I thought, ‘Are we doing enough to have lines of communication open with our student athletes?’ ”

They aren’t really scared about political statements (probably because they aren’t right-wing hacks like Ben Shapiro, who actually wrote of the players without a trace of irony that “Their only job, after all, is to play football.“).  What they’re scared of is the student-athletes turning their sights on things that cost ADs real money, which, after all, was the implicit threat behind the Missouri players’ stance.  Here’s a scenario from Andy Staples that illustrates that:

Now imagine if players in an entire conference decided they wanted lifetime medical coverage for injuries incurred while playing college football. Or imagine they decided that they merely wanted a bigger cut of the millions that currently go to their coaches, their athletic directors, their locker room waterfalls and to subsidize sports on their campus that don’t make any money. Here are a few potential courses of action and their likely results.

  • They could write a strongly worded letter. That would be ignored.
  • They could sue. That would take years.
  • They could threaten to skip their games. They would have everyone’s attention immediately.

If they did it, the schools, conference and NCAA could do absolutely nothing but begin negotiating. Why? Because those groups gave the athletes the power the moment they got into the business of producing and selling television shows. Then, in an attempt to defend their economic model in court and before the National Labor Relations Board, they took away any opportunity they would have had to threaten retaliation.

The Pac-12 and Big Ten own pieces of their eponymous television networks. The SEC takes a huge licensing fee from ESPN to take part in the SEC Network. All the leagues sell games—television shows, essentially—to networks independent of any conference cable network deal. Media companies pay through the nose for the right to broadcast those television shows. How mad would they be at the people who sold them those shows if the casts suddenly didn’t show up for scheduled episodes?

What could the schools do in such a situation? Nothing. They can’t revoke the players’ scholarships, because the NCAA’s attorneys have spent years spitting out court filings that claim the key reason athletes should not be paid to play college sports is that they are simply members of the student body participating in an extracurricular activity. Northwestern’s attorneys argued to the NLRB that athletes are not employees because they are, in fact, regular students. “Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost,” Northwestern vice president for university relations Alan Cubbage wrote in a statement on March 26, 2014. “We believe that participation in athletic events is part of the overall educational experience for those students, not a separate activity.”

Of course athletes are different from regular students. Of course the athletic scholarship is a form of compensation that has far less to do with school than it does with sports. But when you’ve spent years pretending under oath that athletes are average students and their scholarships aren’t tied to their performance on the field, then you can’t yank their scholarships for organizing a boycott. That’s something regular students do a lot. They belong to a very idealistic age group. Protests are part of the deal on a college campus.

To discipline players who boycott would be an admission that their scholarship is compensation for their athletic participation. (Again, of course it’s compensation for athletic participation. The people in charge have chosen to pretend it isn’t.) It would also be an admission that revenue sport athletes aren’t regular students. Regular students wouldn’t lose their financial aid for protesting peacefully.

You can call it awakening the sleeping giant.

“Our student-athletes are smarter than they’ve ever been before,” the first athletic director said. “We’ve worked hard to educate them about where cost-of-attendance (funding) comes from and tell them about their rights and privileges. They’re more aware than ever before.”

Or creating a monster.  Either way, it’s a problem.  Schools have made their beds and now they’re worried they’re gonna have to lie in them.

It’s about financial control and the fear of that slipping away.  The most unattractive part of this has to be how decentralized the threat is.  In the absence of a national players’ union, a wildcat strike of SEC players that gets resolved has no effect on, say, Big Ten players and schools.  Yet player unionization is anathema to D-1 schools right now.

How carefully can you calibrate throwing bones to the kids to keep a lid on things?  That’s a balancing act that I’m not sure the likes of Jim Delany are capable of pulling off, but we’ll see.  Because one way or another, another blow up is a growing possibility.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

Bob Bowlsby sweats it so we don’t have to.

The Big 12 Commissioner wants to make sure you hear it from him first.

But his most eye-opening comments came in relation to ongoing legal battles about what athletes can receive while playing college sports and the recent effort to allow Northwestern University scholarship football players to unionize — an effort that ended last month when the National Labor Relations Board decided not to accept jurisdiction over petition to let those players organize.

“I’m glad the unionization process has cooled for right now,” Bowlsby said. “But the fact is — and it probably will be in the sport of men’s basketball — there will be a day in the future when the popcorn is popped, the TV cameras are there, the fans are in the stands and the team decides they’re not going to play. Mark my words. We will see that in the years ahead. We saw some of it for other reasons in the ’70s, but I really believe that we aren’t finished with the compensation issue or with the employee-vs.-student issue.”

Wow.  That sounds pretty imminent.  Should we be very worried?

Bowlsby later said he doesn’t think such an action is close to happening, “but the tension in the system isn’t going to go away anytime soon.”

Oh.  Well, it’s a concern, anyway, right?

That point was re-emphasized later in Bowlsby’s presentation when he spoke about a recent visit he made to a college class that happened to include a men’s basketball player. Bowlsby said he ended up asking the player whether he felt like an employee, and the player responded that he did.

Bowlsby said he asked the player why he felt that way, and Bowlsby said the player replied, in part: “My time is not my own. … I don’t have any control over where I go, what I do, how I work out, how long I work out, what I eat, where I eat. … That sounds like an employee to me. … I’m grateful for what I’m getting, but you asked me if I feel like an employee — and I do.”

Bowlsby then added: “I’ve thought about a lot since then and I’m going to ask that question of others as I go around. … In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter what the courts say about employee status if the student-athletes feel like they’re involved in a situation where they lack control over what it is they can do or can’t do — and Lord knows we’ve got lots of rules that govern them from a grade-point standpoint and from a name, image and likeness standpoint. I probably would have felt differently if I still was on campus, but in listening to student-athletes, in some ways we’re putting them in untenable situations.”

Asked after his presentation whether he was surprised by the athlete’s comments, Bowlsby told USA TODAY Sports: “Yeah, I was surprised. Because of how frank he was. I don’t know that it alters the bottom line for me, but it certainly gives me more to think about.”

So, yeah, sucks for you, but I’m not gonna lose any sleep over it – that’s all you got here, Bob?  Man, that’s a real crisis.

There’s a part of me that thinks he’d be happy if there were a player strike in hopes the public would blame the kids and by extension make folks like Bowlsby look better.  Major league baseball showed that crapping on the product is always a winning marketing strategy.  I’m not surprised that what passes for keen intellect among the people running college sports would think similarly.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA

“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.


Filed under Look For The Union Label, The NCAA


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.


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.


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.


Filed under Look For The Union Label