Ed. Note: This is a guest post by Will Rubin, a junior at the University of Oregon with a major in Journalism. A lifelong resident of Eugene, Will has covered the Oregon Ducks for the Oregon Daily Emerald and AddictedToQuack.com, and currently writes for DuckTerritory.com. In the future, he hopes to write for a major metro publication or work for a collegiate athletic department.
The University of Oregon Law Review put on their annual spring symposium Friday and the timing couldn’t have been any better.
Entitled “The NCAA in Crisis: the Crossroads of Intercollegiate Sports,” the all-day event attracted notable panelists from around the country. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera filled the role of keynote speaker, but each presenter brought his or her own strong ideas to Eugene.
The panels were rarely confrontational, and shed a wide light on the bevy of crisis coming down the pike towards the NCAA. The wide range of focuses prompted Penn State’s Stephen Ross to make one of the more striking comments of the afternoon.
“The problem is that everyone in this room has their own independent opinion on what is equitable,” Ross said. “It is equitable that people should get what the fair market gives them. It is inequitable if we use market power to agree to take from people what the free market would give them.”
If one were looking for a common point of emphasis across each presentation, it was the difficulty of managing the social and legal implications of opening up athletes to extra compensation. More specifically, what it would mean to pay athletes institutionally as opposed to just allowing third-party opportunities such as expanded part-time jobs and the rights to their own likenesses.
The panel of Ross, Northern Kentucky’s Jeffrey Standen and Baruch College’s Marc Edelman had the opportunity to tackle this issue from the perspective of Title IX. Ross pointed out that Title IX is largely enforced through equity of opportunity, and thus not every male nor female athlete would have to receive the same benefits.
According to Ross, if a school were to pay their 85 scholarship football players directly, they’d have to pay 85 female athletes as well. This poses a logistical issue, as that would require an average of five women’s teams to balance the head count, which would throw the aforementioned equity of opportunity out of alignment.
Marquette University’s Matthew Mitten opined that the way to fix that would be to simply eliminate the 14-team minimum that Division I athletic programs are required to maintain. This would free up a high level program like Oregon to have their profitable programs (and those needed for opportunity equity) at a scholarship level and any non-revenue sports following a model similar to the Ivy League.
While Mitten and other panelists proposed varying mechanisms for regulating a compensation-based system, unionization wasn’t among them. The consensus of the day was that unions would never work in college athletics, and some took it a step farther.
“I think it is untenable that there’s a situation where some football players are unionized and others are not,” said Nebraska Faculty Athletic Representative Josephine Potuto. She pointed out that not only would there be tax implications for the players, but if they were classified as employees of the university, their parents might not be able to claim them as dependents on their own taxes.
Ross took on the union issue in a different yet equally poignant way. Prefacing his hypothetical situation with “(Big 10 Commissioner) Jim Delaney is not John D. Rockefeller,” he then proceeded to lay out how – if public perception and conscience weren’t an issue – conferences like the Big 10 could drive a stake into reform efforts.
His “Rockefeller plan” held that the Big 10 could support and help facilitate union votes across the conference and then lock all the players out pending a collective bargaining agreement. If NFL players could barely break a lockout, reasoned Ross, there’s no way the college crowd would.
In an upset however, the line of the day came from former Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas. Flanked by his attorney, Thomas appeared during the final minutes of the symposium and gave a boilerplate statement about how his time in Eugene was a dream come true (I highly recommend Register-Guard columnist Austin Meek’s piece for more perspective on Thomas’ presence).
It was only afterward that Thomas deviated from character and said what he could until his attorney cut him off. “It’s a job now,” Thomas said. “You don’t make the rules, you have to go by the rules.”