Sports

NCAA Bigwigs Threaten To Slash College Sports If They Can’t Have Free Labor

The NCAA claims to be committed to a “culture of personal responsibility and individual accountability.” Unfortunately that culture does not extend to its leadership, who whine and bully with the best of them when the law doesn’t let them indulge their every whim.

Witness the NCAA’s annual Final Four address over the weekend. NCAA President Mark Emmert and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told the press that they are prepared to forfeit millions rather than accede to a legal obligation to share any revenue with players. This isn’t the first time NCAA Bigwigs have lobbed the threat of blowing up their own cash cow rather than share with the kids risking injury in the gladiatorial pit for the benefit of universities. Last year, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said that his schools would quit Division I athletics if the Ed O’Bannon case rules that schools can’t unilaterally sell the likenesses of players for profit.

There’s a certain majesty in being so committed to cutting off your nose to spite your face….

It’s no surprise that Emmert is not pleased that the NLRB ruled that Northwestern’s football team can unionize.

“It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics,” he said. While conceding the NCAA needed to address certain problems, “no one up here believes the way you fix that is by converting student-athletes into unionized employees.”

“Up here” was a panel of the beneficiaries of a system that makes billions off free labor, so yeah, I’ll bet they don’t see unionization as the solution. But they did offer some suggestions for how they would prefer to deal with the problems facing college athletics:

College sports today require more time and commitment from athletes than ever before. In his ruling, NLRB regional director Peter Ohr said Northwestern’s football players spent between 40 and 50 hours per week on football activities during the season—”more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs,” he wrote.

Bowlsby floated the idea of shortening some seasons, including college basketball’s, to one semester. “Some of our TV partners would be apoplectic to think about such things,” he said in reference to CBS and Turner Sports’s deal to broadcast the NCAA tournament. But he added: “These are unusual times, and everything ought to be on the table.” A spokeswoman for CBS declined to comment.

Translation: “We’re prepared to forfeit millions to shrink college sports down to a level where no one will complain that we’re exploiting kids for fun and profit.” That said, the NCAA can talk a big game about standing up to “apoplectic” networks, but networks don’t get mad, they get even. Lawyers for CBS and Turner would have a thing or two to say if the contracts they agreed to suffered a material change.

In five years, Emmert said, he hoped the NCAA would “still be an association that involves student-athletes who are participating in their sports. I think the notion that this is going to all move toward unionized employees playing college sports is a ridiculous idea, because in many, many cases, they’ll just cease to exist. Most universities don’t have resources that would allow them to move toward that kind of model.”

It’s all part of a strategy of fear and intimidation to convince the public that if the NCAA loses these various cases they will literally take their bat and ball and go home. Indeed, there are small schools that couldn’t afford another hit. But that’s more a product of the NCAA’s failure as an organization. That some athletic departments make more money than all NHL teams and most NBA teams while others struggle to get by is the result of poor sports management, not the fault of students fed up with schools selling their faces to video game companies. The money is there:

Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, an advocacy group, said: “There is $1.2 billion in new annual TV revenue available to provide the protections that college athletes need. While the NCAA and college administrators prefer to spend such revenues on lavish salaries and luxury facilities, some of this revenue should be used to protect college athletes. The new money alone would take care of all of the goals we are pushing for.”

Spending all the money on salaries and facilities rather than helping students? Wait, are we still talking about student athletics?

NCAA President Mark Emmert Blasts Union Idea [Wall Street Journal]

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