Category Archives: Look For The Union Label

The player strike you never heard about

Greedheads.

Two Stanford football captains sat out a week of summer workouts and meetings last year in protest over the university’s delay in providing players scholarship money, according to a recent Stanford player.

Rollins Stallworth, a Stanford wide receiver whose eligibility expired after last season, revealed the protest Tuesday while serving as a panelist at a forum by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Stallworth said the decision by the captains, whom he declined to name, happened after Stanford was late in providing players with stipends for the third straight summer.

“So we were expected to be at meetings at 7 in the morning, go to practice for three hours, go to classes for another three hours and have nighttime meetings without having our stipend or our money — with literally no compensation,” Stallworth said. “At that point, two of our team captains stopped coming to practice, stopped coming into meetings for almost a week or a week-and-a-half as protest.”

Hey, I thought those were voluntary!  (The meetings and practice, not the stipend, that is.)

By the way, you can probably guess the punchline.  The sit out got results.

In an interview after his public remarks, Stallworth said the stipends arrived about a week after summer workouts started. In the past, he said, the stipends took a couple weeks to reach players.

Stallworth, who is chair of the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said the protest might have sped up the delivery. Stanford officials were concerned about the protest and only the two captains participated, he said.

“It was a mistake, a human error on the filing of our stipends that occurred,” Stallworth said. “But the thought process was, if we’re not being compensated on our end (and) you’re not holding up your end, we shouldn’t hold up our end as well.”

Stanford athletic department communications director Alan George said via email, “The delay in providing summer school financial aid was due to problems with administrative procedures that were impacted by financial aid office processing activities and the timing of when students enrolled in courses. The matter was addressed when it occurred and procedures for providing summer financial aid have since been changed.”

Which is why you’ll see more of this down the road.  The hard part isn’t using your leverage.  It’s realizing you have leverage in the first place.

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I got your massive package right here.

You may recall that, earlier this year, the NCAA announced with some fanfare an initiative with regard to time demands on student-athletes.

Division I athletes will have a say in shaping NCAA policies about time demands through a survey distributed this week to all 346 schools.

Athletes in every Division I sport will be asked to provide feedback in the survey, distributed Monday by the NCAA. The Power 5 conferences, the NCAA Division I council and the Division I student-athlete advisory committee formulated the survey. Results are due March 21 and will be relayed to the Division I council, which will meet in April.

The survey is being conducted online and not being administered by coaching staffs that could attempt to influence the responses.

According to a survey sent to a Football Bowl Subdivision player and obtained Friday by ESPN, respondents complete sections on in-season countable athletic-related activities (CARA), out-of-season time demands and travel.

A “massive legislative package” regarding time demands will be introduced by September, according to Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, chair of the council. After several months of review, a proposed policy will go to a vote at the NCAA convention in January 2017.

Yeah, well, the results are in and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of shape that so-called “massive legislative package” will take.  Not because of a lack of response from players, but because, shall we say, there’s a certain lack of consensus between labor… er, student-athletes, and management… er, coaches and ADs.

To start with, here are the spots where the parties see eye to eye:

All of the participants in the survey generally agreed that there should be at least eight hours overnight between activities that can be counted toward the NCAA’s 20-hour-per-week limit on what athletes can do with their teams during the season. There also was agreement about implementing what is termed a “mandatory no-activity period” immediately following the end of a season, as well as offseason no-activity period in which athletes would be encouraged to participate in an educational or career-development activity.

But even that last point was the start of a disagreement as to how long such a period should be.

Meanwhile, where the rubber meets the road…

The survey showed that a majority of athletes felt that travel to and from games, compliance meetings and organized team promotional activities also should be counted toward the 20-hour limit. A majority of the faculty athletics representatives agreed, but a majority of AD’s, coaches and administrators disagreed. For example, 63% of athletes said travel should count against the limit while 7% of coaches and 25% of AD’s said travel should count.

Participants also were asked: If the definition of countable activities was expanded, would you be supportive of increasing the hours limit? Athletes in some of the NCAA’s most prominent sports were among the least supportive of this idea. FBS football players were least supportive (34%), followed by those in men’s lacrosse (35%), women’s basketball and FCS football (38% each), men’s lacrosse (35%) and men’s basketball (41%). At least 60% of the head coaches in each of those sports supported that idea (73% in men’s basketball) and 64% of the athletics directors did so, including 56% of the ADs at Power Five conference schools.

Athletes in these sports also largely supported the creation of time limits on team activities during preseason practice and academic vacation periods, while majorities of head coaches in those sports did not, except 52% of men’s lacrosse coaches said they supported this during vacation periods.

Somehow, I think that legislative package may not be so massive now.  And the beat goes on…

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“Once people saw what was really going on, it wasn’t going to take a union to change it.”

If you can get past whatever knee-jerk objections you have about players’ unions and read this piece on what happened at Northwestern, it’s worth your while to gain some understanding about what motivated the principals involved.  Here’s the part that most telling:

When announcing the union, Colter had tried to be clear that his beef was primarily with the NCAA, not with Northwestern. But only by taking on Northwestern could he take on the NCAA, which created a more ambiguous situation. Northwestern lawyer Anna Wermuth noted that Fitzgerald had created a Leadership Council to give players some voice in team rules. Colter countered by saying that Fitzgerald retained 51% of the power. “We get an input,” Colter said, “but at the end of the day he’s the boss man.”

Wermuth also brought up Colter’s ankle to illustrate how Northwestern took care of players after graduation. “So they did say they would reimburse you for the MRI?” Wermuth asked.

“After they denied me,” Colter interjected. “But I mean there shouldn’t be any gray area. I gave—I sacrificed my body for four years. They sold my jersey in the stores, and they should protect me as far as medical coverage.”

Underlying some of the criticism of Colter was the belief by the school and many of its alumni that Northwestern was the wrong place to highlight the pitfalls of college sports. In many ways that was true. It had a graduation rate of 97%, the highest in college football’s top division, and a history of providing some medical coverage even after an athlete’s playing days had ended. As soon as the NCAA allowed schools to guarantee four-year scholarships, Northwestern was one of the few to do so immediately. In truth, the university treated its players about as well as any school did—and as well as NCAA rules allowed. This was part of Northwestern’s defense. Colter’s concerns were NCAA issues, the school’s lawyers argued. Northwestern couldn’t distribute cost-of-attendance stipends, for example, without the association’s approval.

Northwestern called other players to testify, and each presented compelling evidence that the university valued schoolwork. But none refuted Colter’s accounting of the hours or the coaches’ control. Then came Fitzgerald. “We take great pride in developing our young men to be the best they possibly can be in everything that they choose to do—athletically, academically, socially,” he said. But Kohlman got him to concede that the players can spend 24 hours on football on a Friday and Saturday when they travel to away games. He acknowledged that he set team rules too. In an interview the year before, Fitzgerald had called being a student-athlete “a full-time job.”

There weren’t any truly bad people in this fight.  Northwestern was an exemplary actor within a system that wasn’t so exemplary.  And Colter had good reason to express concerns over things like working conditions and players’ insurance.

The problem was that a union vote at one school was a poor vehicle to use to address the specific objections Colter had.  Ironically, the move to unionize turned out to be more effective than it should have been, because the conferences and NCAA freaked out when the NLRB’s initial ruling in favor of the players was issued.

Sneer if you like, but it’s impossible to deny the changes we’ve seen from the schools and the NCAA in the wake of what happened at Northwestern and O’Bannon.

Weeks before the trial, the Pac-12 presidents published a 10-point reform plan that included full cost of attendance, lifetime education trusts and improved medical insurance for players. The Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delany, testified during the trial, and days later the conference’s presidents issued a similar open letter. South Carolina, Indiana and Southern Cal unilaterally announced that they would begin handing out four-year athletic scholarships. And the NCAA abandoned its longtime release form for the use of players’ names, images and likenesses. (Schools and conferences now issue the form.) For practically the first time in NCAA history, colleges were tripping over themselves to do better by their athletes.

That’s either a reaction or a remarkable coincidence.  Either way, it’s hard to blame the players for trying.

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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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