Understanding the Seismic Shift Coming to College Sports Because of the Ruling Allowing Northwestern Players to Unionize
I want to dig into this very monstrous decision that happened last week allowing college athletes at Northwestern to unionize. This is going to be a very laborious process of trying to break it down and explain it all to you. I don’t mean that in a way talking down to you whatsoever. It’s just a very involved process that has begun. I’m going to break it down into several parts. I am going to use MSU as an example in some cases because I cover them everyday, but it is important to point out college athletics is a systemic problem. Frankly Mark Hollis has navigated it better than anyone.
The world of college athletics is changing. It’s changing in a major way. It used to be that when the scholarship process first started that there were no limits to how many could be given out. I mean, you would literally have nine strings on the football team. Now, you have a first, second, and maybe a third string in football. Back then, there were none of those aforementioned limits on how many scholarships you could give out. Obviously, having more kids on scholarships benefited “STUDENT” athletes because that would allow more kids to play sports and get a free education. The schools complained that it cost their institutions too much, so scholarship limitations were enacted. Guess it wasn’t about the “STUDENT” athletes.
The scholarships were for room, board, books, and tuition. So, you could say a kid went to school and got a free education and it was absolutely the truth. Then, over time, they kept limiting the amount of scholarships. At first they said, ‘Well we’re doing this so we have parity, and everybody has a chance to compete. It also costs the schools so much money.’ We all know that there isn’t very much parity in college sports. It’s certainly true now more than it used to be, but you get the point.
The real reason for scholarship limitations was because they were trying to save the schools money. That made some semblance of sense because the money generated by athletics at the time wasn’t even close to proportionate as it stands today.
The football money and basketball money has grown exponentially. The NCAA gets billions dollars for the NCAA tournament. There is so much money involved with the various network deals, not to forget the Big 10 Network that the dollars have grown at astronomical rates. All of that goes into the pot and all of the marketing and all of the clothing. You can buy everything now. It is a major business. Billions of dollars.
Look at what coaches, NCAA, Universities and conferences have made then to now, and then look at the same growth charts of revenue and all have expanded at amazing rates. What has remained constant or GONE BACKWARDS? The student athlete limitations and grant in aid.
Now, I want to make this very clear before we move forward: I am a free market capitalist. I believe in the economic way of life our founding fathers foresaw when they founded this country. I am glad that Mark Dantonio makes over $3.5 million to be the coach at Michigan State because I think he deserves it. If you look at the amount of money his program generates for this university, he well deserves it. In fact, he’s probably underpaid. Tom Izzo makes $4 million a year and deserves it. So, please understand, I have no problems with this.
All of the Spartan football coaches got raises. They should have. Michigan State University makes tens of millions of dollars off the athletes’ success…tens of millions. That’s Michigan State’s athletics. Michigan State University makes hundreds of millions. When you look at the money the administration keeps that athletics generates that they shouldn’t be that comes in from concessions, the money that comes in from parking, the money that comes in from the Big 10 Network, the money that comes in from the Big 10, and all the ancillary money with the selling of products is ludicrous.
How about the millions paid to the school in tuition from the athletic department? They are making their share. The Conference, the Big 10 Conference, makes hundreds of millions, and then the NCAA makes billions. As the money in college sports has gone up, everyone has been increased exponentially except the student athlete who still gets room, board, tuition, and books.
A lot of people don’t know how much ridiculous ignorance student athletes have to endure. They are not able to have part-time jobs when the NCAA mandates they can’t. When they’re not doing their sport in season, they show up early in the morning for workouts, film, student athlete run workouts and more. They have year round jobs for the school, especially in the revenue producing sports. This is not just at MSU, but every major program.
I don’t think those are problematic, but I’m saying people don’t understand the time requirements of being a student athlete. During the football season people say, ‘Well, they only practice 20 hours.’ That’s on-field practice. It doesn’t count meetings, it doesn’t count treatments, and it doesn’t count film and other functions and requirements such as lifts, media, travel, meetings and more. How many times have you heard coaches at MSU and around the nation talking about player only workouts, film sessions and more? Certainly they can’t “Mandate” that, but every coach talks about those who give it. It is expected. It’s a wink from every coach at every school to the STUDENT athlete that I am watching.
I’m not going to say what school and I’m not going to say what sport but I have a story. I know of a student athlete (it was in a month when his sport was not even close to competing, it was supposed to be a dark time meaning no coaches around) who had a wedding to go to. His head coach didn’t want him to go. Even though the head coach allegedly wasn’t organizing the activity, they had a team building session that the captains were running. The coach put a ton of pressure on the player to not miss this event. It was “Vital to the team and your teammates.” That isn’t counted and it happens: ALL THE TIME! Within the rules.
Big time college athletics has become a full-time, year-around sport and job. I mean, Michigan State football got a couple of weeks off after the Rose Bowl and then they were right into their winter workouts, weight lifting, and guys in watching film getting better. Winter workouts turned into spring football, and then they’re going to go to summer workouts. I mean, it’s such a laborious process. The student athlete is working more than full-time. It’s not even remotely close. So you can say, ‘Yeah, but they’re getting a $40,000 scholarship to go to school free.’ I totally agree. But guess what? They’re not getting the opportunities to go get a job or to go do those things that others get to do, because their job is a student athlete. It is a job. They’re told, ‘You will be here then, you will be here now.’ Not to mention the amount of players who do stay and don’t get a degree.
I know of student athletes who didn’t have money to go to a movie or eat off of a dollar menu because their families didn’t have any money to send and they were not permitted to get a job. I know of one who did his laundry in a sink.
Now let me make one thing clear. Most coaches WILL NOT go on the record and call it out whole heartedly. Almost all will off the record and they freely admit on and even more off that the NCAA compensation of athletes is beyond ridiculous. I applaud Tom Izzo who has been VERY boisterous in questioning what and how they get help.
Look at what happened in the NFL with the last labor agreement. The players were like, ‘Listen, this is ridiculous.’ Why are we doing so much in the off season? They got a lot of concessions from the ownership about ‘we got to cut back.’ So, there are all these requirements. Guess what?
Did you know if a player gets injured playing college sports, he’s going to get his healthcare taken care of while he’s a student at his school? First, they will exhaust their PARENTS’ health care. If the injury continues after his career is over, he’s responsible for his own healthcare after a set amount of time.
Let’s use Rocco Cironi, my buddy, the former left tackle at MSU as an example. He had a shot at the NFL, but he blows out his knee in the Alamo Bowl in his last game as a senior. If Rocco has any recurring issues with that knee the rest of his life, now that his career is over, he has no medical care through the University after a set amount of time. His knee that was injured as an MSU player is now only covered by his own medical care after a set amount of time and MOST players don’t even know about the set amount of time after they leave.
The NCAA sells the likenesses from past players? Did you know that? That’s why Ed O’Bannon is suing the NCAA on behalf of players. CLICK HERE NOW: The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. The NCAA and the colleges, because of nothing short of sheer greed, have screwed the student athlete time and time again. They tell you it is all about the student athlete, they tell you that but actions speak louder than words.
As you know, the Big 10 Basketball Tournament was just in Indy, which is perfect for the fans. It is inexpensive, it is a great downtown, it’s easy, and it’s centrally located. Every single athletic person that I have talked to off the record talks about how they want to play it at Indy and about half like the Indy/Chicago rotation. It rotates currently in Indy and Chicago.
Jim Delaney, the Big Ten Commissioner, with the approval of the Presidents goes off and adds Rutgers and Maryland to the Big 10…which makes no sense other than the TV markets of Washington DC and NYC that allegedly those schools would bring to the Big Ten Network footprint. Neither school currently accomplishes dominance in either market now with a relative footprint.
It was not good for the Big 10 to add those schools for MULTIPLE reasons, but it was very beneficial for Jim Delaney according to several Big 10 AD’s I’ve talked to. The only one that benefited from that, in their opinion, was Jim Delaney. More than one B1G AD told me, “Look at Delany’s contract and the foot print of the conference when he retires and you will know why he wanted them.” One AD called his contract when he retires in relation to the Big Ten footprint, “A golden parachute.” (Their assertion and not mine.)
Let’s be fair to Delany. He couldn’t add them on his own. The Presidents follow him like the Pied Piper because he fills their checking accounts or as one Big Ten AD told me early this year, “As long as he shows them checks they would follow him off a cliff.”
You really believe it’s about the student athlete? I broke this story a couple of weeks ago. I had a Big 10 Athletic Director (everyone always assumes it’s Mark Hollis) and it was not Mark Hollis who told me this and Spartan Nation has now confirmed by multiple B1G athletic administrators that Delany wants to take the Big 10 Tournament and rotate it into the Big Apple at Madison Square Garden and into Washington DC. Rutgers and Maryland country allegedly.
I had a Big 10 AD tell me he thinks Jim Delaney would like to have the rotation be Indy, Chicago, Washington DC, and Madison Square Garden. But of the four, he wants to have more representation in NYC.
I mean, excuse me, Madison Square Garden? He told me, “I could see us having it at Madison Square Garden every third year if Delany got his way.” That makes no sense IF it is about the student athlete.
The parents and fans can’t afford it. New York is overly expensive. ‘But it’s about the student athlete.’ No, it’s not. You couldn’t even practice in New York City in the hotel ballrooms (teams have practices in ballrooms routinely on the road) because there weren’t ballrooms big enough at the hotels in NYC that weren’t booked.
Many of the coaches and athletics people from various schools chimed in about how terrible the hotel situation was at the NCAA games in NYC. The NCAA being at the Madison Square Garden had nothing to do with the student athlete. It had everything to do with the NCAA money. It’s a joke. While SEC coaches have all voted and agreed they want to fund the parents travel out of their own pockets, the NCAA won’t let that happen. Why? It’s about the student athlete, isn’t it?
I know parents who couldn’t travel with MSU basketball to see their kids in Indy, then Spokane, and finally in NYC. They simply didn’t have the money. But it’s all about the student athlete…allegedly. I had one MSU parent implore me to write this article because of the absurdity of the NCAA model.
Decisions are constantly being made against the student athlete. That is why they play games at 9:00 at night or 10 PM. Then the players fly home, they’re home at 4:30 in the morning, and have to be at class at 7:00 a.m. How’s that about the student athlete? Really? It’s not. It’s not about the student athlete. Get that through your skull. It’s about the NCAA. It’s about the Big 10. It’s about the schools. It’s not about the coaches because they bemoan the foolishness. But no one’s talking about the student athlete.
Certainly you heard about NCAA rules that would allow schools to provide bagels, but not cream cheese. God forbid a school pick up a five star QB because one school has a better cream cheese than others right? I prefer Philadelphia by the way.
So a group of students at Northwestern said, ‘Enough’s enough. We need a voice at the table. Everyone’s making decisions about our lives; what we can’t do, what we can’t be given. And no one’s speaking for us.’ Do you know what happens? It’s sheer greed. These young people are old enough to go to war and fight for this glorious nation, but we can’t let them have a say? Shut up!
I’m not a traditional union guy. I don’t hate unions. I think there are places that unions are necessary and vital. I also think there are a lot of places unions have become not a good thing like where they protect those that shouldn’t be and they fail to protect those that should be protected. I’m not an anti-union guy. I’m not a pro-union guy. To me it’s in the right circumstance. But no one would stand up for the players with a strong enough voice to count so they revolted.
So, all of the sudden a group of players appealed and said, ‘We want to have union representation. We want somebody at the table speaking for us.’ The parents aren’t being spoken for. The students aren’t being spoken for. Nobody is who has a voice loud and powerful enough to be heard and fix it. Nobody’s speaking for them.
So the Northwestern players applied for the right to unionize. The Big 10 and the NCAA were NOT happy. I don’t blame them. They have a monopoly on the most important commodity in sports: the players and add to that total 100% dictatorial control. Their cries of ‘We are a non-profit organization’ echoed like the silly waste of verbiage that they are. Just like some televangelists feigning poverty while driving Bentleys and being flown around in helicopters. I’m not against success. I’m against people being fake about it.
I love to see people succeed. I don’t believe in redistributing wealth, but I do think of the verse “Don’t muzzle the ox that treads the corn,” and I am mindful that people working hard, risking the injuries, and doing the work deserve to eat the pie. That is America. That is capitalism. We don’t live in Soviet Russia, we live in the glorious USA and if the players want to unionize and they can the Soviets…grrr…I mean the NCAA is out of luck!
God bless the Universities, the conferences, the commissioners, the athletic directors, and everyone making money. God bless the USA and capitalism. I love it. BUT shame on those same people who don’t support reforming compensation and/or expectation of players, but at the same time control their lives. We aren’t dealing with children. We are dealing with young people old enough to be told to pick up a gun and risk their lives defending this nation and they have no voice. NONE.
So the players have no voice, they’re being overlooked; they’re being literally ignored while everyone is raking in cash and they are being denied BASIC benefits. The players said, ‘I want a voice at the table. The parents… Hey, somebody think of us’.
The players played in Indy. Then, these players go play in Spokane and then go play in New York. You’re telling me we can’t give the parents a stipend to travel to go see their sons? Izzo thinks they should, SEC coaches think so, and so should any other sensible human being.
I know players who have made tens of millions of dollars for the schools in many ways. Selling their jerseys, because they were great players, using their likeness, speaking at events whose parents didn’t get to watch them other than on TV. That is morally reprehensible. ‘But they get a scholarship.’ Forget about it, it’s morally reprehensible.
I know young people who wanted to play for MSU, but chose other schools because their parents wouldn’t be able to watch them. Are you kidding me? You really think this system works in revenue producing sports that makes billions?
The positions at the Conferences, the NCAA, and the schools are very arrogant. ‘Well, they’re not employees. They’re compensated with a grant.’ That is what they call the scholarship, grant in aid. Preposterous.
The people who ran the hearing of the Northwestern players seeking to unionize, they made it appear, were not sports people. But their rendering was so absurd about the NCAA, and I mean absurd, that it just made the NCAA look stupid.
So they favored the players and said these guys deserve unionization. They can unionize. So, let me tell you where it’s at. Nothing’s going to change in college football today. This is going to be a lengthy process. It’s going to be appealed and everything else.
Now there is a paradigm known as the rule of unintended circumstance. What that means is that when big systemic changes come to anything, there are unexpected changes. This is going to be a long process that has been sent before the National Labor Relations Board as a whole for them to approve or disapprove of this finding. I think they’re going to approve it.
Let’s assume that this ruling goes on and is upheld. It means that players are now going to be considered employees, which means they’re going to get to bargain their healthcare after their schooling’s over if it’s an injury sustained because of being an employee. They’re told when to be here, they’re told when not to be there, their coaches are their bosses, and their Athletic Departments are their bosses. All of that will ne negotiated.
I have no problem with that. But here is the dynamic issue: Michigan State football offers 4-year scholarships to players, which means when you come to Michigan State they’re giving you that scholarship for 4 years. They don’t have to. Most NCAA schools give you a year-to-year deal. That will almost certainly change.
Remember when Arthur Ray, Jr. came to MSU, they found out he had cancer having never played a down at MSU? Mark Dantonio honored him with a scholarship. Dantonio was the exception and NOT the rule, but those days will come to an end. You are hurt and it wasn’t related to your sport? See ya.
Let me give you another example of absurdity. A coach can leave and go to another school in the Conference. A player, if he chooses to transfer, has to sit out a year if he wants to transfer, even to another BCS school out of conference. In fact, if a player at a B1G school wants to transfer in the conference he isn’t even allowed a scholarship. But it’s all about the players…grrr… student athletes.
It’s absolutely ridiculous. I know of coaches who’ve said, ‘Well, if you want to transfer that’s fine. But I’m not letting you go to this school, this school, or this school.’ Really? Why? How come you can Coach, but I can’t? Remember Trevor Anderson who wanted to come to MSU when Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati? Coach Brian Kelly (Now with Notre Dame) held that up even though Kelly has no issues jumping ship when he finds it beneficial. Again…greed, power. I love the old saying: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s exactly what’s happened in college sports.
So there will be changes in the future. Now schools, if a Student Athlete is an employee, can say, ‘You know what, you’re not performing.’ All of the sudden that guy, who they recruited because they thought he’d be really good, just wasn’t that good at the college level, or maybe he just wasn’t that motivated, or maybe for whatever reason they got a couple of young recruits after he got there that were better so he got skipped over and got pushed down the depth chart. That guy’s going to get cut. I don’t have an issue with that. There will be no more education for him unless he goes somewhere else. He’s going to get cut. Now, there are some schools where they do cut players. They don’t call it that and I’m not saying every school, but I’ve written about it before in Spartan Nation, where some schools do cut players.
If a player gets injured, they can leave him on scholarship for the remainder of the eligibility and pay the scholarship, but it doesn’t count against the 85 scholarship limit. It has been widely reported how some schools will declare a player injured when in truth they just aren’t that good. Now, they can just let them go, where in the past they at least got a “Medical” and finished their degree.
Now, all of a sudden, players, if you’re an employee, you’re going to pay taxes. Let me say this to you. Do you know who I think is really going to benefit from this rule? I think some of the smaller cheaper schools. I was talking to a buddy of mine whose kid is on his way to play at Northwestern. He said, ‘Man, if that goes through and I got to help my kid pay taxes, do you know how much it costs to go to Northwestern and not even as close to as much as other schools that offered my kid?’ That’s going to weigh in.
What about the kids whose parents can’t afford to help pay the taxes? So now, all of a sudden, you’ve got an 18 year old kid saying, ‘Wow, do I go to Northwestern where it’s $100,000 a year or do I go to some other place considerably cheaper?’ You think I’m kidding, but the tax debt is going to be there.
There’s going to be unintended consequences, the rule of unintended consequences, for everyone involved. I think the NCAA is going to get smashed right in the face and get their teeth punched out, which should happen. They have been absolutely absurd.
Now, you’re going to be able to see kids sell their likenesses or sell their autographs, which they should be able to. Isn’t it amazing? The school can have players autograph stuff to give to donors, which raises money. But the kid can’t do it. Click here to look at eBay. Seriously, do it right now. Stop reading this article. Go look at how much stuff Connor Cook, when he walks out of a game, signs for Michigan State fans, and they go run and put it on eBay. Everyone is making money off of Connor Cook, BUT Connor Cook. It isn’t about whether or not he needed the money; it is about right and wrong.
Now, those players will have control of their likeness. Will it open up now and we’ll see Connor Cook saying, ‘Hi everybody, I’m Spartan quarterback Connor Cook and after a big win I celebrate at Dagwoods’? Or wherever he chooses to go…I just say Dagwoods because I love their food.
You don’t know where this is going to go because once they’re ruled employees then they’re eligible for workers comp. So let’s go back to Rocco Cironi. He blows out his knee and misses his chance to go play in the NFL. How do you determine how much he gets paid now the rest of his life for his loss of an NFL opportunity? Or what if some guy goes to school who is studying Forest Management, he wants to be a lumberjack and he’s a football player, blows out a knee and can no longer do it? What is the workers comp or settlement now?
I’ll tell you another thing that’s going to happen. It’s going to hurt the Olympic sports. It’s going to crush them. I asked a key member of the Michigan State Board of Trustees their initial thoughts about the ruling. They said, ‘We’re going to have to start cutting sports immediately if this ultimately passes.’ This did not come from Mark Hollis, and they didn’t say it did. It was just their personal opinion.
Remember I talked about the rule of unintended consequences? Title IX is about having to keep the numbers equal. So, let’s say they cut women’s track, which I know is a sport that’s been thought of as a potential cut or gymnastics or wrestling, cross country, swimming etc. Then they’re going to have to cut equally men’s and women’s sports. So, what goes?
You know we’re going to have football and basketball, and hockey is a revenue producer so I don’t think hockey is going to be in any trouble at all. But that means those are the only three men’s sports that are safe. They want to keep baseball. That was Michigan State’s first varsity sport. But will they be able to?
There will be probably three Michigan State men’s sports that are automatically safe. Two for sure, but I think three. Then you’re going to have an equal number of women’s scholarships, so they’ll pick the women’s sports that are the least expensive but give them the greatest number of bodies. They’re going to keep women’s basketball. I think women’s volleyball will be safe. But then you’re going to see a bunch of women’s sports and men’s sports cut to keep the scholarship numbers even and drive down costs.
What happens to the rule of unintended consequences? All over the nation teams will get cut. They were so greedy, now they get their hand forced and other people are going to pay.
I have advocated for years that in revenue producing sports you pay those players a higher amount. Not at all like pros, but certainly enhancing the financial remuneration that they presently get. So, at UCONN and Tennessee for women’s basketball that makes money or multiple SEC baseball schools that those players would get more than at MSU in the respective sports. People scream how unfair it is. Really? You pay those that make the money. Period. If you say it is unfair and we have to pay all, fine. We will pay all, after we cut a ton of sports eliminating how many more opportunities.
Let me tell you about a conversation that I had recently with Tom Izzo. It was off the record so I’m not going to tell you anything that Tom Izzo said. I’m only going to tell you a story that I related to him.
I know a major recruit who comes from a very poor family, but they are wonderful, precious people. These people will probably not be able to travel to watch their child play sports. That recruit is being recruited by several national programs, and one of the national programs that is recruiting him has offered to cheat the NCAA rules; to compensate the family financially. Doesn’t matter what sport, but the father said to me, ‘I told the coach we don’t want to break the law.’ The line that the coach is giving this family, ‘You’re not breaking any laws. These are NCAA rules, but they’re not laws and they are stupid.’ This has happened for years and continues to this day.
Even with Washington DC presently so screwed up there wouldn’t be laws like this, it’s too absurd. Now the family is not going to take the help. They have integrity and they don’t want to do that. But here is the dilemma in which we discuss. The family is broken, and I don’t mean just financially, but because of the process. They’re like, ‘You’re right, it isn’t breaking the law. We don’t want to break any rules, but there are no laws being broken.’
What is wrong with this system? Their kid is going to sell a lot of jerseys. Their kid is going to make a ton of money for the NCAA, the conference, the coach and the school and play at a lot of big venues. Great athlete. He will probably leave his sport early to go play professionally. He will be making nothing other than his grant in aid until he turns pro. God forbid he get permanently injured and run out of eligibility.
Michigan State families had to go to Indy. Then, they go out to Spokane. I know some prominent players’ families from Michigan State that did not make the trip to Spokane. It was too expensive. Then, they go to New York City where hotel rooms are $200 a night and up and $50-$100 a day if you take the cab. It’s hard to take the subway, it’s cheaper, but if you don’t know how to use the subways, it’s almost mind-boggling. You play a 10 PM game. I didn’t even get out of Madison Square Garden until almost three in the morning. But parents didn’t get out of Madison Square Garden until almost one in the morning. You’re downtown New York. But it’s all about the student athlete, isn’t it?
So there’s a long way to go in this process. It is the greed of the NCAA, the colleges, the Conferences, and the Presidents that brought this upon themselves. They have no one to blame but themselves. While sticking their head in their (be careful Hondo) sand, this has grown into a dilemma.
There’s nothing left to discuss. They did this to the game. Now, there’s going to be repercussions. We’re always going to have football and basketball, people. You could have Jim Delany or Mark Emmert say, ‘If you want to just go to the pros, go to the pros.’ Really? Look at the system…it’s ridiculous. Remember what people say is not reality. It’s just what they say. It’s the reality of the situation that must be looked at.
I’m not a pro-union guy in every setting. I am pro-union in this 110%. The NCAA, the Conferences, the Presidents, the schools…they all did this. They created this mess. They treated human being players like chattel. How much more can we get out of what they’re doing and us give them less?
I know kids who literally can’t have jobs, they come from families with no money, and they can’t even do laundry. They do not have the money. Really? A few years ago they talked about, ‘Let’s do a stipend. Okay we’re going to do a stipend. Oh, wait a minute!’ And then they hid behind, ‘Well, let’s review it.’ Really? Bureaucracy: Used by politicians to hide since the ancients.
The Olympic sports flourish because you’re making millions off the money producers. Let’s take care of those people. This is a quagmire. It’s a conundrum. This is a bad situation. It did not have to be this way, but somewhere along the lines people stopped looking at student athletes.
I heard an old adage once…you know what the difference is between a window and a mirror? Silver. Windows allow us to see people, but sometimes when enough silver gets in the way it clouds our view of people and all we think about becomes money and not those involved. It’s a sad situation with everybody to blame except the kids. The NCAA, the conferences, and the schools have mirrors clouded with silver and now they only see themselves. Drunk on their own arrogance, power, and pay checks they have allowed the sports we love to be sent down this rabbit hole.
It will not change today, but change is coming. It’s on the way and when it does, make sure you point the blame at the NCAA, the conferences, and the Presidents. Coming down the road are the major BCS schools leaving the NCAA? That is a good thing, can it start today?