Category Archives: NCAA

NCAA looking at rule-changes for player compensation

This is huge. We will see where it ends up, but just the fact the NCAA says it is willing to even discuss changing their rules to allow for athletics to benefit from their name, image, and likeness is a titanic shift.

First, that it comes this quickly after California’s passage of the Fair to Play Act (FPA) is surprising. I would have thought the NCAA would drag its feet for as long as they could.

Second, this is a big move away from the rhetoric before and after the passage of FPA. The FPA was presented by the NCAA as fatal to a level playing fields and the “amateur” model of college sports. NCAA president Mike Emmert said of the law: “This is just a new form of professionalism and a different way of converting students into employees. (They may be) paid in a fashion different than a paycheck, but that doesn’t make them not paid.”

But now the NCAA Board of Governors votes unanimously: “to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

This sounds a lot like the NCAA acquiescing to the spirit, at least, of California’s FPA (and similar state bills around the country).

Of course, there is a lot of wiggle room in the NCAA’s announcement. The details and specifics of the rules have yet to be determined and spelled out. How will they define ‘benefit’? What will it mean to be ‘consistent with the collegiate model’? Will the rules become just another byzantine structure for schools and athletes to navigate?

Nevertheless, I think this is a move in the right direction. It could, for example, lead to athletes staying in college longer rather than jumping ship to get paid. This can lead to more athletes taking advantage of the education opportunity afforded to them by their athletic ability. And it could serve to help athletes better develop their athletic skills prior to going pro—giving them greater opportunity to succeed at the next level. And it could mean better college sports with the better athletes staying longer at that level. Just as importantly, it could provide essential opportunities for all the athletes not playing men’s football or men’s basketball (which is most athletes).

I don’t see many downsides either (without, that is, knowing the details). Emmert has voiced concern that this moves towards professionalization and turning athletes into employees. Some might see that as feature, not a bug. But even if such an outcome is undesirable, it doesn’t seem likely. First, making athletes employees opens up huge, unwieldy cans of worms. From issues raised by labor and health and safety laws to impacts from Title IX, schools paying athletes directly is far too complicated. Second, it’s not clear how this will work in so far as most college sports (read: anything but men’s football and basketball) are not revenue generating sports and really can’t pay their athletes. And even for the revenue generating sports, most of these programs (as they are currently structured) are likely not sustainable in a pay for play model. As much money as the top-tier college sports generate, that gets spread far and wide. A million dollars is a lot of money unless you have to split it among million people.

Another concern raised by Emmert and others is that this will lead to unfair competition. Just in virtue of being in Los Angeles, UCLA will have many more promotional opportunities for its athletes than Nebraska. Won’t UCLA then be able to bring in better recruits? Probably. But is that unfair? Maybe, but fairness is too squishy of word to be helpful here. The heart of the concern is that some programs will have advantages in recruiting over other programs. But for this to be unfair assumes that all programs should be able to recruit on equal terms (as opposed to equal rules). But that’s false. It is descriptive false: that is, it is just not true that programs today recruit on equal terms.  UCLA already has a lot of built-in advantages (depending on one’s preferences) over Nebraska: nicer weather, easier travel, broader regional opportunities. It’s not clear that allowing athletes to get compensated for their name and likeness is going to shift this in dramatic ways. (If it does shift things, it is more likely to shift in ways to that might give schools in less desirable locales the ability to attract athletes they couldn’t otherwise attract.)

It is also normatively false: that is, it is not the case that programs should recruit on equal terms. There are many different athletes, with different purposes, needs, and goals. There are many different schools, with different missions and different programs. Recruitment is in large part a sorting mechanism for fitting the athlete and the school. We need these natural differences and inequalities in order for there to be a sorting, for athletes to find the programs that fit them, and for the schools to find the athletes that fit their program.

I’m usually quite critical of the NCAA, but here it is important to praise them for at least gesturing in the right direction. Hopefully, they can follow up with a set of rule changes that are effective, transparent, and equitable. We shall see.

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Filed under athletes, College, NCAA

Paying College Athletes

The Wallethub.com blog asked a panel of academics, industry experts, and lawyers: “Should College Athletes Be Paid?

In short, my answer was “college athletes should not be prevented from being paid,” but I also suggest that this is the wrong question to be asking. It is too broad and ignores several other important issues. You can read my full response here.

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Filed under College, economics, NCAA

The Sports Ethics Show: College Basketball and Freshmen Ineligibility

With March Madness around the corner, our attention turns to college basketball. But with players going to the NBA sooner and with athlete compensation looming, many fans are concerned about the future of the college game. The rule for most of the 20th century was that college freshmen were not eligible to play varsity sports. This changed in the 1970s but the idea has recently been making a bit of comeback. Is it a panacea for the problems plaguing the NCAA or is just window dressing that fails to address the real problems. Professor Chad Carlson of Hope College joins The Sports Ethics Show to discuss this and other NCAA issues.

Listen to this episode.

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NLRB, College Athletes, and Unions

I’ve hesitated posting anything about the recent NLRB decision regarding the Northwestern football players push to form a union for two reasons.

First, I am not a lawyer and I don’t know much about labor law. So I can’t intelligently comment on the decision itself. I am not in a position to evaluate the merits of the case or the applicability of the relevant law and regulations.

Second, the potential impact of this decision is monumental. It could change everything in college sports (or nothing, but more likely something in between). It seems impossible to make a comment without it spidering out to dozens of other relevant issues. How will this affect compensation and tax laws? What about Title IX and other sports? What will the impact be on the NCAA and its governance/oversight roles? More generally, if the structure of collegiate athletics changes radically, how will this affect higher education overall?

Each one of these is a complex issue in itself. This should tell you that the talking heads commenting on all this probably don’t know what they are talking about it. And after reading a lot of different viewpoints on this since the decision was announced, the one thing I can gleam is that no one knows how this is going to play out or what it really means. The only honest answer to the question “What does this decision mean for college sports?” is “Beats the hell out of me!”

Nevertheless, I wanted to make at least a few general comments.

I think it is an important aspect of the liberty of association and the liberty of contract that individuals are free to work together as a voluntary unit to achieve agreed upon ends. This is what a corporation does. This is what a union does. It’s what a university does. In that way, I don’t think there are compelling reasons for the state to prevent players (or anyone) from forming a union. (At the same time, I don’t think the state should force anyone else to have to deal with that union either—but that is story for another time). In this general sense (and without commenting on their reasoning), I think the NLRB decision was correct.

Additionally, I think the NCAA and the current collegiate athletic system is unfair, hypocritical, and just plain a mess. This decision may be a catalyst for some real change.

And this leads to the worry that I think many have. It may open the door for change, but what kind of change? Change is not always a good thing. As bad as the NCAA is, there is nothing so bad that can’t be made be worse.

Still, I am more sanguine about the reform possibilities than this suggests. At the very least it should be interesting to watch unfold.

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Filed under Football, NCAA

Not Crazy about March Madness

March Madness is upon us. NCAA basketball is taking over the national sporting world (in the U.S.) for the next few weeks. Tune into ESPN or sports radio and all you’ll likely hear is hoops. Even the U.S. President fills out a bracket on national television.

I have a confession to make. I just don’t care. Basketball doesn’t hold my interest anymore. I don’t fill out any brackets. I don’t watch the games. I consciously avoid ESPN during the tourney.

So what? There are so many different kinds of sport, one can hardly be a fan of all them. One has to pick and choose how to spend their fandom-focus.

Nevertheless, this puzzles me. I used to be a basketball fan. What happened?

Growing up, basketball was one of my top sports to watch. One of my more memorable birthdays was a Celtics’ game at the old Bahston Gahden. In college, a group of us went to Vegas for Spring Break primarily to watch the NCAA Tourney. But ever since, my interest has waned.

One explanation is for this decline is that the Celtics just haven’t really been worth watching since the 80s. When I was a kid, the Celtics were the dominant Boston team. This was the era of Larry Bird. The Sox were hardly ever competitive and the Patriots were the “Patsies”: barely on the sport radar. The Bruins were competitive with Bourque and Neely, but in the era before HD TV, hockey just wasn’t as big.

But after the Legend retired, the Celtics descended into a period of heart break and tragedy off the court and irrelevancy on the court. The notable exception was 2008-10 when the Celtics briefly returned to relevance in the NBA.

So, one explanation is that without the Celtics being competitive, my interest in the NBA evaporated. And that is partly true. In the Celtics’ Finals runs in 2008 and 2010, I was watching games with interest. But even then, it was just about the Celtics. I couldn’t get into the other playoff series. And now with the Celtics back to being gawd-awful, I am out again.

And this partly explains apathy towards March Madness. I don’t have team for which I root or to which I have any connection. College sports in Boston are eclipsed by the professional teams, so I didn’t grow up a fan of any particular schools. Tufts had a good team, but that’s Division III. ASU was a good option, but graduate school absorb most of my focus and I never got into them (I am sure the fact that they weren’t very good during that period didn’t help).

Even so, I used to get more into the tourney, make out brackets, etc. So this lack of partisan connection doesn’t fully explain my recent apathy. And to my surprise, I realized I am not alone. When sharing my apathy towards basketball, others acknowledged similar feelings. This suggests to me that this is something more than just my own deal with basketball.

A common refrain I hear often as an explanation is that “the game has changed.” I am not entirely sure what this means and I suspect it is a kind of catch all. The game in terms of its rules has not substantial changed. So maybe it is more a style of play thing. This is philosophically interesting to me as a kind of aesthetic response to sport. Pinning this down is hard, however, but there does seem to be something there.

Another way to take “the game has changed” is that the stars are different today. That is, instead of Magic and Bird, we have James and Durant. James and Durant are fantastic basketball players, as were Magic and Bird. But James and Durant, at least to me, are far less appealing as ‘stars’. James, in particularly, is too manufactured and insincere seeming for my liking. There is a lack of authentic personality to connect to (either as someone to root for or to root against). And in college basketball, it is hard to connect to any team through the stars, since so many of them are ‘one and done’ and off to the NBA.

One last reason I suspect, at least for me, is that my interest and appetite in other sports has grown and just left basketball behind. Sports such as hockey and soccer seem to have more tension, more team play, and more strategic scheming. The first 40 or so minutes of a basketball game are far too often meaningless preamble to the last 8 minutes. You can’t lose a game in the first quarter (and yet you can lose early in soccer, hockey, and football). And if the game is close, the last minute or so becomes a diminished game of intentional fouls and free throws. There is of course strategy and designed plays in basketball, but they seem to play a less important role to just the sheer athleticism of the best players. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it makes it more a performance than a contest.

So to sum up the reasons for my basketball apathy:
1. My personal lack of partisan fandom.
2. The style/aesthetics of basketball have changed and become, for some, less appealing.
3. The big stars are not as interesting or authentic as they used to be.
4. The game is more performance than a strategic, team contest.

I’d love to hear from others who have lost interest in basketball—particularly if they have other reasons. Please share in the comments.

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Filed under basketball, Boston, NCAA