Category Archives: Look For The Union Label

Same old, same old

So the Age of Autonomy is upon us and big changes are afoot, right?  Um, they’ll have to get back to you on that.

Whereas a year ago the autonomy group enacted some landmark legislation that rippled through Div. I — highlighted by full cost of attendance stipends, guaranteed scholarships, and concussion protocols — the legislative package adopted by the Power Five this year was thoroughly non-controversial and rooted largely in NCAA minutia.

The biggest headline, in fact, was the resolution schools adopted to come up with a plan to address time demands on athletes — for next year’s convention.

“Last year I walked out of here feeling like we did something significant,” said Ty Darlington, one of the Big 12’s student representatives and the starting center on the football team. “This year I felt like we sort of relaxed.”

Better get used to that, Ty.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said it “wasn’t a big deal” to table the proposal because there’s already an NCAA waiver process in place for athletes to address the issue if they wish.

It never is a big deal.  Unless it’s being litigated.

Here is the quintessential NCAA exchange:

Darlington, the Oklahoma football player, said it was unacceptable that the autonomy group couldn’t come up with a way to address the issue this year. He produced the most poignant moment of the entire session when he told the room he didn’t feel like it accomplished anything to significantly impact the student-athlete experience.

Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione applauded the sentiment behind Darlington’s comments.

“His statements resonated with a lot of people, maybe the vast majority of people,” Castiglione said. “Hopefully that adds even more of a sense of urgency to getting these changes made. I  think people are very much engaged in the spirit and intent behind a number of these proposals, there were just a number of areas of the previous proposals that needed a little bit more work. In the long run, we will make a lot of progress, there’s no doubt about it and let’s be fair, there’s been a great deal of progress already made.”

In other words, trust ’em.  Hey, that’s worked out great so far, hasn’t it?

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Job? Who’s got time for a job?

Golly gee, sounds like your average everyday college student, doesn’t it?

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They’ll get right on it.

Look at the NCAA, all student-athleteish

Leaders of the five most powerful athletics conferences, responding to players’ concerns that they spend too much time on their sports, are weighing ideas to limit the hours athletes are required to devote to their teams.

One idea calls for a ban on practices and other mandatory athletics activities, not including competition, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Another proposal would create a three-week break at the end of the traditional playing season, allowing athletes to take time off.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

My favorite bit:

Teams also organize voluntary “captains’ workouts,” allowing players to practice outside of the 20 hours, as long as no coaches are present. (Players have a name for such practices, which are essentially mandatory: “moptional.”)

When they’re inventing words to describe a practice that circumvents a rule, you’ve got an issue, fellas.

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“We didn’t envision this when he came on campus.”

Baker Mayfield continues to be screwed by a program that never even gave him a scholarship.

The school that needed that unrecruited walk-on to bail them out would not let go. In fact, Texas Tech has more control over an All-America caliber quarterback — more than 24 months in the team’s rear-view mirror — than anyone except perhaps Mayfield’s parents.

The NCAA, the conference, and the school — specifically coach Kliff Kingsbury — would not sign off on Mayfield getting a fourth year of eligibility in 2017. The Red Raiders did not provide him with the opportunity to use a one-time transfer exception. Oh sure, they can hide behind Big 12 and NCAA rules, but the fact remains.

By not signing off on waiving Mayfield’s redshirt year after he transferred to Oklahoma in 2014, none of them agreed to do the right thing.

Because Texas Tech refused to grant the exception, Mayfield’s career at Oklahoma will come to an end after next season.  That’s fair, right?

Evidently the conference thinks so.

The Big 12 faculty athletic representatives who denied an appeal in May won’t so much as reveal the vote totals against Mayfield’s request. All we know is that it was a majority, at least 6-4 against.

Those FARs are supposed to be a moral conscious of fair treatment of the student-athlete. In this case, they’re hiding behind their votes.

As with most cases like this, the right thing to do gets lost in the crossfire. No doubt, Big 12 and NCAA officials are worried an exemption for Mayfield will open some sort of loophole — except that none of us can remember many unrecruited walk-ons becoming All-Americans.

Yeah, can’t set any precedents that might favor student-athletes.  That way lies madness.

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Filed under Big 12 Football, Look For The Union Label

Shut up and play.

A bill has been introduced in the Missouri legislature that “Provides that any college athlete on scholarship who refuses to play for a reason unrelated to health shall have his or her scholarship revoked”.

Because, freedom.

(h/t Bill Connelly)

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UPDATE:

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UPDATE #2:  The bill’s author has it in for Gary Pinkel, too.

The bill, which as of Monday night had yet to be posted in full, would also fine a head coach for siding with the players in such a situation. Brattin criticized Pinkel for aligning with his players. Shortly after doing so, Pinkel retired due to health reasons.

“Whenever they go and refuse to play and hold our school and our organization hostage by refusal, it’s completely ridiculous,” Brattin said. “I shouldn’t even have to be sponsoring a bill like this.

“What a disgrace to Missouri.”

He continued: “I think it falls squarely upon the coach who gave the anointed blessing to this type of behavior. If they want to engage in this type of behavior, do it on their own time.”

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Meltdown coming.

Hoo, boy.  This ought to be something.

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

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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.”

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“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.

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