Category Archives: Political Wankery

Herschel Walker and antitrust law

I remember what a kick in the nuts it was to hear the news that Herschel was leaving for the USFL, but for some reason, I didn’t remember this particular development afterwards:

In 1983, I testified before Congress, along with former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and several prominent college football coaches to oppose a bill called “The Collegiate Student-Athlete Protection Act of 1983,” which was designed to encourage college student-athletes to complete their undergraduate education before becoming professional. The hearing was prompted by the signing of Heisman trophy winner Herschel Walker to a multi-million dollar contract by the USFL’s New Jersey Generals prior to completion of Walker’s college eligibility at Georgia. The bill was introduced to preclude the professionals from raiding the colleges of their most talented football players before they graduated. At the time, there was enormous fear of the potential upheaval that student-athletes abandoning college for the riches of professional football before completing their college football eligibility would cause within the business of college sports: a poaching of talent would make collegiate teams far less marketable.

The hearing sought to answer under what conditions could Walker, or any other student athlete, lose his amateur status and become professional. Senator Arlen Specter probed then-NCAA president John Toner, Joe Paterno and Bo Schembechler on how a young athlete could make such a decision without counsel of an attorney/agent, particularly since attorney/agent counsel was prohibited under NCAA rules. They not only failed to answer the question directly, but he interplay between them also suggested that they had had many prior discussions regarding amateur and professional eligibility.

Senator Specter further pressed them on the existence of the perceived “gentlemen’s agreement” between the NFL and the NCAA not to sign contracts with undergraduates until after the expiration of the athlete’s college eligibility. Such an agreement, if it existed, would be a violation of antitrust law. Amidst laughter in this public hearing, they expressed their disappointment in the USFL’s signing, but would not admit to having a group agreement. USFL commissioner Chet Simmons explained that the league only approved the signing for fear of an antitrust lawsuit filed by Walker’s lawyer and that the USFL was there in support of the bill since it would allow for a league rule to prevent such legal action. Rozelle testified that for the past 50 years, NFL rules honored the amateur athletes’ four years of college eligibility and would continue to do so in spite of a potential legal challenge. On the other side, NFL Players Association executive director Ed Garvey criticized the NFL for its disregard of the Haywood v. NBA decision in a similar case.

The author of the quoted piece was at one time the executive director of the NBA Players’ Association, so he’s certainly got some perspective on the matter.  His suggestion on how to deal with the NCAA’s current struggle defending its amateurism protocols, which you can read in some detail, is for the colleges to enter into a partnership with their student-athletes – as he summarizes it, “a revenue-sharing business model and recognize a Trade Association representing the college athletes’ interests as partners”.  Yes, if you think that makes too much sense for the NCAA membership to embrace without a struggle, you’re not wrong.

If that’s Plan B, at best, it’s not hard to guess what Plan A is shaping up to look like.

As pressure from litigation and possible congressional intervention mounts, the idea of handing some control of college sports to the federal government in return for protection from antitrust law becomes more of a possibility.

“It’s not my preferred path,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. “I think it is increasingly an inevitable path.”

Swarbrick was part of a panel of legal and college sports experts who tackled the prospect of an antitrust exemption for the NCAA early this week at a meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in Washington.

The NCAA has no official position on whether to pursue an antitrust exemption.

“It’s certainly the case that some people in the membership raise this as a question: Is this an avenue that needs to be pursued for college sports?” NCAA chief legal counsel Donald Remy said.

“Some people” – Donald’s not saying who, exactly, but he wants you to know they’re out there.  Like we didn’t already know that, dude.

The problem for Donald’s folks is that antitrust law isn’t about academics, which is the noble cover in which they’re going to try to cloak themselves.  It’s about economics, which is what we all know this move is really about.

“The problem with it is it implies equivalence between education and athletics. That equivalence should not exists,” Katz said.

Katz does not believe antitrust exemption is a realistic solution for college sports as is.

“The idea of going to congress and trying to get an antitrust exemption for what is a huge commercial enterprise I think is a fool’s errand,” he said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has characterized the NCAA as a cartel. Cartels don’t get antitrust exemptions. Educational institutions do.”

Not that their tune has changed much since Herschel left Athens.

The NCAA, its coaches, the NFL and the USFL were there seeking antitrust protection because a new league had broken with tradition and an unspoken honor code, but mainly it highlighted the difference in the intent of the senators and their desire for the student-athlete to get an education while the NFL, NCAA and USFL focused entirely on the question of eligibility. Thankfully the bill failed, but the power of the NCAA and its political lobby was clear, as was the collaboration, which looks more like collusion, between the NCAA and the professional leagues.

Cartels don’t change their spots.  Although sometimes they do look for legal protection.

27 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery, The NCAA

‘I’ve been in sports all my life, and I like the underdog.’

If you need more proof that “prudent government” is an oxymoron, the Utah Legislature has allocated $1.5 million in public funds to Utah State so the school can pay for its COA stipends.

(h/t)

***************************************************************************

UPDATE:  Too bad Utah State didn’t just lose its head coach(h/t)

4 Comments

Filed under It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, Political Wankery

When football fans make laws

I’ve already mentioned my lack of appreciation for the so-called “Todd Gurley bill” that Governor Deal just signed into law.  But I thought I’d add one last little tidbit about how dumb this whole thing is and will be.

Angered that a dealer — and a Florida fan at that — had not only arranged for the signature sales but then tried to sell the story to the highest media bidder, state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, started thinking about drafting a bill to prevent future shenanigans.

“That’s what really got most peoples’ dander up,” said Fleming, a rabid Bulldogs fan with undergraduate and law degrees from UGA. “I was disappointed when it happened. But I understand the young man comes from a very humble background. His mother didn’t have funds to properly repair the roof on the trailer she raised him in.”

The law has two possible penalties, one criminal, one civil, Fleming said.

“We plugged it into a law about alumni being overzealous,” he said. “Now it’s a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. It can be up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

“On the civil side, the university can sue the person who does this for any damages sustained, like losing a TV contract, not going to bowl games.”

So, Georgia could sue some shady autograph dealer if a player were forced to sit due to taking money and the team missed out on a bowl game?  If it were a case of having to settle for a bowl game of lesser prestige (and presumably lesser money), how would the conference sharing bowl moneys fit in with a calculation of damages?  And would the University, in an amusing turn of the pen, be forced to argue that the name on the back of the jersey does in fact matter sometimes, as in, “if we’d have had good ol’ number 3 suited up, no way Georgia misses the CFP field”?

Of course, the truly amusing thing here is that the party with the reserve fund can sue for damages, but the kid of humble background?  I guess he doesn’t really get Barry’s dander up.  At least he can paper the roof of momma’s leaky trailer with a copy of the bill.

21 Comments

Filed under Crime and Punishment, Political Wankery

Two can play the lobby Congress game.

The NCAA is spending money in Washington, preparing for the day when it asks for an antitrust exemption.  The big argument you can expect it to make about why it needs the protection will be about the academic mission.

And that’s why this letter was written.

In a letter dated April 28 and released Thursday by attorney Michael Hausfeld’s office, two lawyers wrote that continued Congressional examination is needed due to “the apparent inconsistencies and divergences in positions taken by the NCAA” before the senate committee last July and in federal court. The letter from Hausfeld and attorney Bob Orr, who are suing North Carolina and the NCAA in relation to the academic scandal at North Carolina, was addressed to Sens. John Thume, Bill Nelson, Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal.

“In the course of the (July 2014 Senate) hearing, representatives of the NCAA, including its President, Dr. Mark Emmert, testified, in essence, that the mission and commitment of the NCAA was to provide and assure a meaningful education for these athletes,” Hausfeld and Orr wrote. “Subsequent events and information, however, have raised serious doubts about the accuracy of that representation.”

The letter released by Hausfeld, who is also the lead attorney in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, cited the NCAA’s recent court filing in the Rashanda McCants lawsuit that stated the association has no responsibility to ensure “the academic integrity of the courses offered” at schools. The Hausfeld letter also cited a legal statement by the NCAA that it has no role in “the quality of the education student-athletes received at member institutions or to protect student-athletes from the independent, voluntary acts of those institutions or their employees.”

The NCAA has a sincerity problem.  That’s the price you pay when you fight so many battles with conflicting priorities.

The exemption hearings should be a real hoot.

17 Comments

Filed under Academics? Academics., Political Wankery, The NCAA

“You’ll never get any more faculty.”

Skipping past the time honored stupidity of the people running the great state of Louisiana assuming the oil money never runs low, the question I’ve got about LSU making contingency plans to file for financial exigency (academic bankruptcy) if state higher education funding doesn’t find a way out of the ditch it’s currently in, is what happens, if the school is forced to pull the trigger, on the sports front.

I mean, this sounds like some serious shit here:

Being in a state of financial exigency means a university’s funding situation is so difficult that the viability of the entire institution is threatened. The status makes it easier for public colleges to shut down programs and lay off tenured faculty, but it also tarnishes the school’s reputation, making it harder to recruit faculty and students.

“You’ll never get any more faculty,” said Alexander, if LSU pursues financial exigency.

The Louisiana Legislature is closing out its meetings this week without having made much progress in finding more funding for universities, colleges and others. Louisiana’s higher education community is facing an 82 percent funding cut if no extra state money is found.

The change would bring state funding for LSU from around $3,500 per undergraduate student to $660 per undergraduate student next year.

“States around the country spend more than that on their community colleges,” Alexander said.

If LSU ceases to operate in a way that gives it academic credibility, does the SEC do anything in response?  I’m not joking – remember all the highfalutin’ talk we heard about schools being good academic matches for conferences during the last round of realignment musical chairs?  If that has any meaning, what do you do about a school that’s going Third World, metaphorically speaking?

And what exactly does Les Miles sell to mamas on the recruiting trail in terms of academics?  “We’ve got nicer facilities than the JUCOs your son is looking at”?  Or does he just go all in and say, “screw it, we were never that serious about academics anyway”?

I’m not trying to be overly dramatic here.  It’s just that it’s a very strange situation and I’m curious where things go if the shoulder shrugging never gets LSU out of the ditch.

39 Comments

Filed under Academics? Academics., Political Wankery

You got your laws, they got theirs.

Georgia’s busy passing laws criminalizing people who pay college athletes, while there’s a South Carolina legislator who wants to make it legal for the home state powers to pay theirs.

11 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery

Freedom’s just another word.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that as the NCAA was willing to wade into the murky waters of Confederate flagdom, it’s now preparing to take a stand on another culture war matter.

On the eve of next week’s Final Four in Indianapolis, the NCAA expressed concern about a new Indiana law that will allow businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers based on “religious freedom” and suggested future NCAA championships in the state could be impacted.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday signed into law a measure that has created uproar in the state where the NCAA is located. Some conventions are threatening to pull out of Indianapolis. Greg Ballard, the Republican mayor of Indianapolis, broke with the Republican governor on the bill and said it would put the city’s economy at risk.

“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement Thursday after the bill was signed. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

I don’t know where the NCAA has been on this before now.  It’s not as if Indiana is setting a trend here.  Does this mean Emmert’s prepared to announce that the organization will prohibit championship games it sponsors in every one of those nineteen states (soon to be twenty, if Georgia’s proposed law passes) that allow individuals to discriminate against gays?

*************************************************************************

UPDATE:  The Big Ten weighs in.

184 Comments

Filed under Political Wankery, The NCAA