Category Archives: The NCAA

Eastasia has always been at war with Oceania.

And, as Andy Schwartz tells it, the NCAA has always paid players.

Contrary to popular belief, the NCAA has only ever truly enforced a nationwide prohibition on payments to athletes for three years—from 1948 to 1951. Prior to that, there was no NCAA-wide rule on scholarships at all, meaning that the full flowering of the popularity of college football prior to World War II was achieved without any intervention from any centralized, faux-regulatory body. Imagine it—all that sis-boom-bah and yet no national price fixing!

In 1948 that changed. The NCAA passed what was called the “Sanity Code,” which said that any form of merit pay to an athlete in exchange for his services as an athlete was forbidden, and any school that violated that policy would be boycotted by all other members of the NCAA. To be clear, what we now think of as athletic scholarships were item number one on this list of banned payments. In the Sanity Code world, an athletic scholarship was—gasp—pay for play.

By 1951, the NCAA had identified seven schools—BC, The Citadel, Maryland, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and VMI—that were, apparently insanely, paying football players through athletic scholarships. The full NCAA membership, when asked to enforce the Sanity Code, had a moment of “there but for the grace of God go I” and realized that because they were also providing athletic scholarships, if they knocked out Virginia Tech, the next knock on the door in the night might be to haul them in to be judged for their own insanity.

So neither Virginia Tech nor its fellow “Seven Sinners” were punished and the Sanity Code, while it stayed on the books for a few more years, was left unenforced.

In the years since, the NCAA has never tried to prohibit athletes from receiving some form of athletic pay for their services. So while you often hear people decrying the horrors that would emerge if college athletes were to be paid, with the exception of those three years, college athletes have been paid. Often these scholarships include a monthly check that players use to pay their rent and buy food with. Sort of like everyone else does with the checks their employers give them.

Over the years, the only thing that really changes is its definition of pay.  Or, to paraphrase the former leader of the free world, It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘pay’ is.

Throw unprecedented revenues together with doing what’s convenient and you’ve just created the perfect formula to lose in court.


Filed under 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

“They’re becoming these public personas at these universities, and why not capitalize on that?”

The NCAA won’t let a student-athlete make money on his or her likeness, but there’s no rule against protecting them.

Like their counterparts in the pros, more college football stars are starting to snatch up trademark rights to their names, nicknames and fan slogans.

The NCAA generally forbids its players from cashing in on their athletic success, but by gaining legal ownership of phrases tied to their personal brands, players can pave the way for lucrative licensing deals in the future and can prevent others from exploiting their names.

This month, Ohio State University running back Ezekiel Elliott applied for trademarks to use his nicknames “Zeke” and “Eze” on merchandise, according to records in a public database kept by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Elliott also filed for a trademark on the restaurant name “Zeke’s Crop Top Bar and Grill,” a nod to the junior’s preference to roll his jersey up like a crop top. Elliott was unavailable for comment, and his father declined to explain the trademarks.

At Mississippi State University, quarterback Dak Prescott applied for the trademark on his name last fall, along with “Dak Attack” and “Who Dak,” phrases that fans have waved aloft on game-day signs.

It’s unclear to me where this is headed.  Obviously, it could mean more in a post-O’Bannon world, but we’re not there yet.  The article mentions that some schools have begun suggesting that their star athletes take steps to protect their names.  There’s also this:

Many universities, meanwhile, have stopped selling jerseys with the numbers of current players, in part because of legal concerns.

Hilbert predicts that, as universities shine the spotlight away from individual athletes, more players will step in to take ownership of their own brands.

“It’s a gradual move toward commercializing the sport,” Hilbert said. “As the demarcation between amateurism and professionalism further erodes, you’re going to see these guys get even more savvy about branding matters.”

It makes you wonder if we’ll see a day when a star athlete takes steps to preclude his school (or the NCAA) from using his name or likeness in a promotion.


Filed under It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

“These are just educational institutions who have decided to go into a business.”

The AP does a shit’s getting real story about the numerous fronts the NCAA finds itself engaged in battling over amateurism. Nothing should come as much of a surprise to you, as we’ve discussed most of it, but I do find this sentence tucked into the piece a bit startling:

With some exceptions for the greater good, U.S. law generally bans companies from striking deals that curtail competition — in a word, cartels.

When the AP starts tossing the “c” word around like that… well, it may be time to coax a comment out of Stacey Osburn in response.


Filed under See You In Court, The NCAA

A new term for a new age

Is Donald Remy moving a cherished NCAA expression into the 21st century?  And why?  Maybe we’ll never know.

Did the NCAA quietly change its signature term “student-athlete” to “college athlete?” Allie Grasgreen, a higher education reporter at Politico Pro, astutely raised that question on Twitter after the NCAA’s statement this week on the Northwestern union decision. NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy made six references to “college athletes” in his Aug. 17 statement after calling them “student-athletes” seven times in a 2014 statement when the union attempt began. In a separate NCAA news release on Aug. 6 about time demands, the NCAA referred to players as “college athletes.”

For decades, the NCAA has used “student-athlete” as a noble idea for amateur athletics and a legal defense. The NCAA created the term “student-athlete” in the 1950s as a successful legal defense after the widow of college football player Ray Dennison, who died from a head injury while playing football, filed for workers-compensation death benefits. The “student-athlete” defense has worked for the NCAA in other cases. The NCAA, which did not respond to requests for comment, parses words so carefully that chances are this change has some meaning behind it. In recent years, the association has shifted from “amateurism” to “collegiate model.”  [Emphasis added.]

Stacey Osburn, you minx.


Filed under The NCAA

“I think (recruits) are going to start asking (about cost of attendance).”

Man, according to the data Jon Solomon’s gathered, there’s a whole lot of manipulation of numbers going on.  And the coaches know it.

“There are some SEC schools that have a really high cost of attendance even though they’re in a relatively small town, so I’d like to see the formula that they’re coming up with,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, whose school has one of the lowest COA amounts ($1,602) in the FBS.

Said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, whose school’s COA ($2,382) is among the lowest in the FBS: “I’ve seen a few of the numbers. It’s an interesting number. The people that can control it, there are some ways you can manipulate the system. It will be another clear battle (in recruiting).”

Ohio State, college football’s defending national champion, has the fourth-lowest COA in the Big Ten among public universities ($2,970). “It’s wrong, it’s wrong,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of the varying numbers by school. “That needs to be fixed. Whoever came up with that ruling, it’s wrong. That needs to be a standardized (number).”

Well, if you mean a number set by the NCAA, that would be illegal, Corch.  But, whatever.

But I do think something Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick offers makes sense.

… Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, whose private university has one of the lowest COA figures in FBS, believes schools should provide recruits with disclosure statements explaining every element in a proposed scholarship.

“Like when you buy a car, there ought to be a simple, federally-mandated disclosure form that says here’s what it is,” Swarbrick said. “One reason cost of attendance numbers are different is because figures embedded in other elements of the scholarship are different. You could have a different meal plan. If I only provided you 10 to 12 meals a week, your cost of attendance is higher. If you provide a 17-meal plan, it doesn’t impact your cost of attendance.”

I will bet you most kids have no clue how to make sense of that right now.  Of course, that means there are probably plenty of schools out there that would prefer not to shed any light on this.


Filed under Recruiting, The NCAA

Just your typical student

Part of college football’s power over us comes from what I call the romance of amateurism, the idea that the kids we see on television and cheer on in our stadiums are in school for the same reason our next-door neighbor’s son is, and that, outside of those game days when we connect with them, they lead the same lives.  It’s an ideal that the NCAA and the schools have done their damnedest to exploit to their profit.

But it’s nothing more than a convenient fiction.

Unless you think this is the kind of thing every college kid utters about himself…

“I’m here to serve the people,” sophomore running back Sony Michel said. “They’re fans and if they ask for something, I’m willing to give them my autograph. It’s no big deal.”

… while in almost the same breath his head coach is close to calling for an outright ban on the practice.

“You’re just about to the point where you say don’t sign anything for anybody,” coach Mark Richt said. “But that’s tough. I don’t think we can get to that point. But if you are doing it for pay, then you are wrong and you just shouldn’t do it.”

That isn’t to say Richt is a hypocrite.  He’s only pointing out the consequences of living with the risk of violating NCAA norms. Sadly, between the Green and Gurley suspensions, he’s the closest thing we’ll find to an expert on the subject.

But it’s not just about autographs and some money on the side.  More than anything else, it’s about control.

At Clemson, Dabo Swinney has banned his players from social media during football season.

Don’t expect to see any tweets, snapchats or Facebook posts from the Clemson Tigers the next few months.

As has become standard practice, the Tigers’ social media ban went into effect on Aug. 3, reportsUSA Today.

Players are not required to delete or deactivate their accounts, but are “forbidden” from being active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or other social media during the season, according to the report.

The ban is intended to keep players’ focus on football as opposed to the outside world.

Now some of you may applaud this as a necessary or wise step.  But if that’s the case, why is focus only important for players during football season? Why doesn’t Clemson apply such a ban to all students attending school on full scholarships, or all of its enrollees?  For that matter, if the academic mission of a school is as important as the athletic one, why doesn’t Swinney ban his players from social media during the entire school year? (And while I’m asking, if you’re the parent of a child attending college and you approve of what Swinney has done, have you imposed such a ban?)

Whatever happened to letting kids learn a few life lessons from their experiences along the way?  Isn’t that supposed to be part of a college education?  What’s the point of treating twenty-somethings, people close to having to step out and make it in the real world, in the way we’d treat our eight-year old daughter?

It happens because they’re football players, because their coaches make millions of dollars a year and because those coaches think that control equals accountability (for them, not their players).  All of which may be true, but has nothing to do with the way the average college student is allowed to lead his or her life.

Another thing to keep in mind here is that those of us outside the arena don’t see student-athletes as mere students.

Carter and teammate Jake Ganus said the attention they get is nothing compared to that of running back Nick Chubb.

Even some of the other players get extra attention simply for knowing Chubb.

“I’m not Nick Chubb, but I am Nick Chubb’s friend,” Ganus said.

Chubb is aware of the public persona that comes with being a star on the Georgia football team. He likes having the ability to have his peace and quiet every so often.

“That’s part of job,” Chubb said. “You come here to be a football player, but other things come with it and that’s one of it. People want to see me and greet me and I enjoy it. But sometimes I just like to fall back into the shadows.”

Just like… I’ll let you finish the sentence there.

But it’s not just us fans who are guilty of that.  The schools themselves, the purveyors of amateurism romance, are just as bad in their own way.

Unless you think that Tennessee paints rocks for every kid who applies there.

Believe it or not, my point isn’t that this is why players deserve to be paid.  It’s that the system surrounding them is corrupt and hypocritical. The NCAA and its member schools try to straddle a divide of amateur innocence on one side and big money with big demands on student-athletes on the other.  And it’s a gap that grows ever wider as more money flows into the system and raises the stakes.  The romance isn’t sustainable, and the sooner we realize that, the less we’ll be hurt by the sport’s changes.


Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA