I support unions, but I don't own a cat and I am limited by gender from being anyone's aunt.
chance of bowl: 13.6%
We've reached a crossroads. Northwestern has had just about their entire football program sign on to an attempt to get themselves recognized as a union by the National Labor Relations Board. This is a crossroads for the NCAA for obvious reasons.
It is also one for this here blog because it is explicitly a no-politics zone. Whenever the word "union" comes up your bitter uncle who watches Sean Hannity on a loop waddles in from firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about how unions are the doom of America and gets in an argument with your aunt with a dozen cats who sounds like that one lady on NPR. This argument is why the hopefully-soon-to-be-fired dude in charge of NCAA PR framed his response like so:
This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education.
The unions! They're destroying education.
I don't care about any of that; I only want to look at an interesting tactic to force schools to bargain with their athletes.
Former UNC center John Henson
The NCAA says student-athletes are not employees, because student-athletes are student-athletes, who are not employees. This came about in the 1950s when the widow of a player who had died tried to get workmen's comp. The Colorado Supreme Court eventually found that Fort Lewis College was "not in the football business," which was probably accurate in that time and place.
More recently, a paralyzed TCU player had a long-running court battle that ended in 2000 with the NCAA winning on what seems like a hell of a technicality:
The appeals court finally rejected Waldrep’s claim in June of 2000, ruling that he was not an employee because he had not paid taxes on financial aid that he could have kept even if he quit football.
Along with a weaving series of decisions by the NLRB that erratically but generally side with universities when students who happen to also be workers ask for bargaining rights, this is what the NCAA will hang its hat on.
On the other side, a 2006 paper by a couple of Michigan State law professors (one of whom is a Michigan law alum) entitled
THE MYTH OF THE STUDENT-ATHLETE: THE COLLEGE ATHLETE AS EMPLOYEE
The article is a lot more fun than it sounds.
Why, a half century after adopting this term, should the NCAA
unceasingly intone to millions of viewers that these young men and
women are “student-athletes”? The NCAA’s purpose in this message is
to shore up a crumbling façade, a myth in America, that these young
athletes in NCAA-member sports programs are properly characterized
only as “student-athletes.” This characterization—that athletes at
NCAA-member schools are student-athletes—is essential to the NCAA
because it obscures the legal reality that some of these athletes, in fact,
are also employees.
About halfway through the authors start using the term "employee-athletes" in a delightful fashion. And I'm pretty sure that this paper is the underpinning of the case Northwestern will take to the board, because it lays out its argument specifically for D-I football and basketball players. The new College Athletics Players Association is currently restricting itself to the same players:
Huma told Farrey that only NCAA Division I FBS football players and men’s basketball players will be eligible to join CAPA — not because non-revenue sports athletes don’t deserve a voice and workplace protections, but because revenue sports athletes are in the best position to make a legal case that they should be treated as employees.
The upshot of their argument is that the most recent edict set down by the NLRB declares that students working in some capacity for the university are not actually employees as long as their work is primarily educational (ie, research assistants getting credit for their work) and if their relationship with the university is "not an economic one."
Scholarship athletes are being compensated for activities that have nothing to do with their academic goals and if they're at a number of D-I basketball and football schools they are raking in millions of dollars for their university. Therefore, they are employees*. It's hard to envision a court claiming with a straight face that Michigan is "not in the football business" these days. That they are using their football business money in bizarre ways is not the NLRB's problem.
The weakest part of the argument here comes from the fact that employee-athletes are all given the same amount of compensation. The decision this paper is basing their argument off cited the uniformity of compensation of GAs at Brown, and the fact that some Brown students got the same compensation without having to do work-like activities. The paper convincingly argues that this fourth test is nonsensical in multiple ways, but that is still a sticking point upon which the whole enterprise might founder.
I'm no law-talking guy, but I'd say there's a decent chance Northwestern gets certified.
*[As long as you accept the premise that athletes submit to a high level of control of their activities in exchange for compensation, which is entirely obvious and will be fought against tooth and nail by the NCAA.]
Well, then Northwestern and Northwestern only would have a player union. They would have the legal right to collectively bargain with Northwestern for impermissible benefits that would give the NCAA cause to annihilate Northwestern.
States across the country with laws on the books that are friendlier to student-employee rights would see local CAPA chapters mushroom. As anyone who's dealt with a GEO strike knows, Michigan is one of these.
At this point, the entire system has to either collapse or be forcibly restructured. What the NCAA looks like in the aftermath is completely unpredictable, at least for schools in major conferences. The one thing that is clear: the firmament will be shaken as employee/student/athletes go from people watching the NCAA to half of the decision-making process.
I support unions, but I don't own a cat and I am limited by gender from being anyone's aunt.
I'm very disappointed that you didn't use this post and your position as one of the most popular eBloggers on the internet to tell us that Northwestern students and Chicagoans alike should refrain from pushing women and children into Lake Michigan during this intense cold streak.
in this weather, they'd be thrown onto the lake rather than into it, wouldn't they?
Not if the pusher is Jayru Campbell.
In honor of this post, I will now walk three blocks and do just this. #Chiberia
But he would only need to do so if he felt said pushing was bad. Perhaps Brian does not feel pushing women & children into the lake is bad and hence his refraining from admonishing people from doing so.
I think it's a safe assumption at this point that Brian is definitely "PRO pushing women & children into the lake" given his glaring ommission in this post.
I just knew it.
Why does Brian hate women and children?
The point is, athletics are NOT a huge financial boon to universties. Even the huge programs, like Michigan, don't make much of a profit.
Michigan spends about $800K per player, per season on their football program. These kids are already getting compensated, just not in cash. They are getting the best training available for their craft, they are getting equipment, they are getting trainers, they are getting coaches, they are getting medical treatment, they are getting a state-of-the-art place to train and play, etc.
There are huge problems with college football, and the Northwestern players are addressing some of them. But you cannot argue that $800K/player is not sufficient compensation.
As I have said before, I'm all for a limited stipend, since these kids can't work. But paying them or calling them employees? Definitely a bad idea. If someone wants to do that, start a minor league and call a spade a spade. Don't try to mix college athletics with professional athletics.
The fact is that even with the mega-bucks football produces, only a precious few programs (around 30) are making a profit. These programs cost huge amounts to run, and that is the compensation these players are already getting.
either your "facts" are way off, or we are spending way too much on players, as this link says Bama has a total of 1.8 million in player costs for their 85 players (while reeling in almost the rest of the 88 million in revenue)
Really? I offer an academic study from a reputable think tank with ZERO incentive to make footballs programs look good, and you come back with garbage piece from HuffPo?
They are ONLY counting the $21,000 in tuition as "player costs" in that article. They're not counting equipment, facilities, and yes, coaches and staff who help develop the players. That is beyond ridiculous, and smacks of article that is only trying to advance a political agenda.
Saban is known as one of the best coaches in the country and consistently coaches players into multi-million dollar contracts. Isn't there some value in that for the players?
What about all the equipment, training, and resources they're given to hone their craft? What about the travel and boarding expenses for the players?
If you want to advance an agenda, go ahead. If you want an honest conversation about the facts, then spend some time learn them.
It's a dead link...
M spends $800k ON each football player is like saying NASA spent $24 billion ON Neil Armstrong.
This money is spent to make the players more effective at their JOB.
In particular, as the historical examples cited above show, medical treatment has in the past had a tendency to go away when the player can no longer do his JOB, hence the necessity for a lawsuit in the first place ca. 1950.
"Amateurism" was stripped from the Olympics at around the time they were fully subjugated to money and TV; there is no analogy in that example to the role of the NFL in helping to superannuate "amateurism" as a device to maintain a defacto farm system.
In an undistorted market system, it is hard to sustain a legal rationale squaring "amateurism" with rampant commercialization as is the case with CFB these days.
WIKI's comment on "amateurism" in the Olympics ends with the following:
As class structure evolved through the 20th century, the definition of the amateur athlete as an aristocratic gentleman became outdated.
This money is spent to make the players more effective at their JOB.
This is precisely my point. These kids are getting the best job training possible--isn't that what everyone goes to college for? To be more prepared for their careers? Should we pay everyone who goes to college?
READ THE STUDY. Football programs are not making the "windfall" profits people believe they are, and the schools that do make solid profits (which are few) use that money to subsidize the money-sucking sports which are basically everything that isn't football and men's basketball.
If you're going to pay these kids because their sport brings in revenue, shouldn't you have to charge the kids whose sports are subsidized? How else will you balance the budget?
I get that players don't have the opportunity to work while they play, and I'm even more sympathetic to some of the issues the Northwestern players have brought-up re: medical care. But the money isn't there to pay these kids--unless you're charging the ones whose sports are a drain on athletic departments.
My argument is that football players are being fairly compensated in the training they get for their craft, and it's awfully hard to dispute that, since the college programs are producing the only source of NFL talent.
If you want to argue that the NFL should remove its restrictions on how long players have to go to college, I'd agree. But don't blame the NCAA for that. If the NFL wanted high school kids they could change their rules, or they could develop a minor league.
The fact is that college football programs are extraordinarily expensive to operate, and those costs go to training the young men to be good football players. There is a TON of value in that, and by looking at actual figures you can see just how much is spent per player.
But seriously, the Risk Management blog was an interesting read. It links to this article from the Atlantic. U of M gets a "nod:"
...on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill last fall. As we spoke, two giant construction cranes towered nearby over the university’s Kenan Stadium, working on the latest $77 million renovation. (The University of Michigan spent almost four times that much to expand its Big House.)
I recommend reading Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" if you haven't already. It's his diary of the 1969 baseball season and he discusses a lot of the issues facing players in the years before free agency. There seemed to have been a sense that changes in favor of the players were coming. Now, decades later, this is what he had to say:
Q: What do think of the enormous salaries in baseball today? Has the pendulum swung too far in the players' favor?
A: Back in the 1960's, we begged the owners to raise the minimum salary from $7,000 to $10,000, but the owners refused. That's when we hired Marvin Miller, the great union leader who in 1975 engineered free-agency for ballplayers. So here's how I look at it: for a hundred years the owners screwed the players; for twenty-five years the players have screwed the owners - they've got seventy-five years to go.
The truth is, it's not the owners that have suffered. It's the fans who ultimately subsidize all of the players' salaries. Baseball, not-so-coindicentally, has nowhere near the cultural dominance that it once had, and it has been surpassed by football and arguably basketball too.
Actually, it is coincidence. You can't prove causality here.
coincidence, since you raise the point.
It's a coincidence because each of the sports he said have passed also have had free agency. Thus free agency doesn't seem to have hurt them in popularity. Thus, you really have an uphill battle to claim free agency has caused baseball's decline in popularity.
Football, basketball, and baseball all have a players' union. So the claim that football has surpassed baseball can't be due to one of them having a union and the other not. They both have one.
That might have more to do with a combination of the rise in HDTVs ad broadcasts, having 162 games to watch in the Internet/ADD era, and the media and MLB's collective reaction to and handling of all current and past PED use.
i loved ball four, but for these purposes reading interviews with marvin miller is much more interesting. what miller understood and the owners did not is that you can't make all players free agents at once because that would cause too great a supply. that's why he used only messersmith and mcnally as a test case - he wanted waves of free agents such that there was only a limited opportunity at any one time to significantly upgrade your team. in such a situation, owners were more likely to bid highly for the best players.
that situation has an interesting corrolary here: if all players were able to bargain at once, you wouldn't see a massive rise in compensation. but it could come shortly thereafter because unlike professional sports, playing time in college is limited and players come in waves, when they graduate high school. in that scenario, the freshmen should be the highest paid players on the team every year unless the upper classmen can be free agents.
And I believe Miller later said that he was ecstatic that Charles Finley was the only owner who pointed out that TOTAL free agency, while netting the superstars enormous contracts, would retain a buyer's market for all of the other players. He figured the other owners thought Finley was crazy and would ignore his suggestion. Which they did.
I agree, Miller probably is a better source. Bouton has other great lines though, and it's a good read so the issues are presented almost by surprise. I like when he states in one of the epilogues something to the effect of, yeah, maybe these players don't deserve all the money they get now, but the alternative is that the owners get it, and they deserve it even less.
I think the contracts could be structured to avoid the freshman/senior divide that you're talking about, but that's about 8 battles into the future for the Northwestern squad.
Michigan wins the last National Championship
Isn't the CAPA going to run afoul of Title IX? My brain always goes around in circles in this. It's impossible to argue Michigan's football players aren't earning big bucks for the university. It's impossible to argue that Michigan's women's water polo players ARE earning big bucks for the university. Yet the law dictates that they be treated equally.
My understanding is that the DoE could acknowledge or create an exception to any Title IX problem here. But I suspect that would only happen under a pro-labor president.
So do we then get players for sports that do not generate revenue start paying the school? The players in a team get paid differently depending on whether they generate revenue or not (i.e. Heiman QB gets $1M, backup kicker does not get even a scholarship)? I am still torn on this issue, siding with paying players that are generating $, but then it has to change for everyone.
All of these issues will be addressed in due time. Why do you have so little faith that it can be worked out?
Who would sign up to take money away from women?
More interestingly, what if women form a union and demand equal access to football. They can even demand that rules be altered to accommodate women in football next to men. It is one thing for private entities like pro sports to deny women's participation. It is another thing all together when it involves public institutions.
One more point, if they are now just employees, why are they only allowed to work for four years? Why would they need to take SAT/ACT? Why do they even need to go to class?
If Denard was cut by Jacksonville tomorrow, why couldn't Michigan take him back?
GSIs are employees. They can only work 10 terms. They have to take the GRE. They are required to register for classes and make adequate progress towards their degrees. What is so hard to understand here?
...student athletes are empolyees then it's all over. No chance in hell that university presidents & regents want anything to do with the risky finances of running professional sports programs.
Probably the schools eliminate athletic scholarships altogether and revert to fielding teams from the general student body. And if that fails to keep up attendance & TV interests on Saturdays then don't be shocked when Michigan Stadium is sold off for condo developments.
But frankly, I don't think there's a chance in hell the Northwestern union will succeed. Too much money at stake in maintaining the status quo will manage to buy off the courts.
It wouldn't necessarily change anything. As Brian pointed out, the NLRB has gone back and forth on the issue, and it hasn't much mattered. Labeling them "employees" wouldn't change much about how schools treat them in and of itself. Quite the opposite: it wouls just acknowledge the existing state of affairs.
I think this is grossly underestimating the complexity of this issue. College athletics is a very artificial construct built around the foundation of student athlete. It is not merely just a label.
If they are no longer a student and now are employees, why are they only allowed to work for just four years? Why do they have to be admitted? I don't think most university employees are students. Why would they go to classes? Why would they need qualifying teat scores or grades? Hell, do they even need to be on campus? Why can't they just fly in for games?
I'm with you on the first part, but I think there's a compromise available that can please both a) the current anti-NCAA wave of litigation from people like Brian who see the "student-athlete" as a sham, and b) the athletic department, and all of the major corporations like ESPN that have billions of dollars staked into college sports.
I think the only way out of this is a technically independent (but affiliated) team of players, paid by their employer (Michigan's athletic department), but who don't receive scholarships or any official aid from the university. Players would be no different from any other students who have jobs on the side, and the responsibility would shift away from the University. It would mean that we would need a new athletic department which operates independently of the larger university, but I don't think that's a huge leap at this point seeing as how our AD is already fiscally self-sustaining. This would mean that players could be paid fairly, unionize, etc, and it would also keep the millions of people (and huge amount of $) invested in the system happy. It would also be ok with Title IX, which I don't think any other solution is at this point.
I agree. SCAM should spin itself off from universities and organize itself as a professional league, with paid athletes. Universities that want to sponsor teams should do so; universities that want to keep the current system should do so. Everybody wins: the athletes that want to be professionals could do so, and those who want to play for a university to get a free education could do so.
I think musicians should be able to do the same. No one should be forced to play music for a university scholarship if they want to get paid professionally for it.
Not everybody wins in that spinoff scenario. The NFL will come under heavy threat from this new "professional" league with its rabid fan bases and access to young talent.
Do you really think that a professional entity like an independant U of M Athletic Football Club would spend 4-5 years developing a talent like Tom Brady only to let him walk off to the NFL? No, this would be a major turf battle and the NFL will come at it hard.
Why not just have an NFL Minor League which fields teams affiliated with Universities? A stipulation being that players can't stay in the minors for more than 4/5 yrs.
I haven't thought it all through but off the top of my head:
-Logistically, How do choose how to pair NFL teams with colleges? Or even individual players? Seems fraught with the potential for abuse.
-Money, player development is expensive. Why would an NFL want to add a tuition cost on top of that already (or have a prospect waste time studying economics/art/philosopy/etc.)? And if the minor league college team actually makes money, who gets the profit? Wealthy NFL team or tax-payer supported school?
-Legality, Can you have a minor professional league where players have a mandatory retirement after 4-5 years?
-Control, what about PR & branding? A professional team might be more willing to put up with boorish behavior from a young talent whereas the universities have their student codes & values.
doesnt the NFL have the 3 year out of high school rule or is that ncaa? it could just be like the NHL/MLB draft where players are drafted out of high school and can develop in minor leagues or college.
It is the collective bargaining agreement between the NFLPA and the NFL owners, actually. The Maurice Clarett case decided this issue- the CBA trumped the rights of the prospective players. It's a highly interesting opinion issued by one of the (second) highest courts in the United States. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6869763862944787702&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
First, the NFL could easily come to an agreement with such a professional league that would allow some limited transfer of players back and forth, much like it has with the NCAA (although that is one-way). The new league would be motivated by the desire to avopid having to biud against NFL teams for talent, and the NFL would benefit by having a league that would train and condition players not yet physically ready for the NFL.
Second, i very much doubt that the U of m would sponsor such a team. It could do quite well with its own team, as it has in the past. It might lose players sooner than before, as they become good enough to be hired away by the new league, but that would be a good thing overall, as players would have an incentive to attend to get themselves ready for the new league as well as the NFL, and locker room bitterness over how much the school made from football would diminish.
No one should be forced to play music for a university scholarship if they want to get paid professionally for it.
A musician has a choice of scholarships and assistanceships in order to help finance an education toward a music degree. In both cases, progress toward a degree or meeting assistanceship obligations is a condition of maintaining the assistance.
This example is sort of contorted because much of this assistance is for post-graduate work. Anyone pursuing a higher degree in music is likely eyeing an academic career rather than playing in an orchestra. (There is also an historical split between the old conservatory system, aimed at producing players, and the university system aimed at producing scholars and researchers (and, in the US system, professors). The conflation of the two in the US is sort of an historical peculiarity.) In football, there are no post-graduate football scholarships, and, as far as I know, no academic careers built around football, except maybe John Bacon.
All this aside, a person on assistance for music school can do anything they want on the side as long as they maintain progress toward a degree or their assistanceship duties. A musician can audition for a performance organization at any time with or without a degree. I don't know, but I am willing to guess that the majority of symphony musicians have no doctorate, although many do.
I don't see why CFB players can't engage in gainful employment using or not using their expertise, or hire out for commercial endorsements or the like, as long as they maintain their scholarship responsibilities. This, I think, is artificial and wrong.
There's always the Ivy League model: No athletic scholarships. Union problem solved.