It’s hard to sugarcoat this one: Yesterday was as shambolic, as craven and venal an appearance you’ll ever see before Congress.
Administrators from the NCAA, universities, conference commissioners, and others appeared before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee to discuss issues related to student-athlete NIL compensation. The grand prize would be attaining a much-coveted antitrust exemption. Of course, that kind of carte blanch is not bound to happen; instead, Congress is far more likely to impose limitations on the amounts that can be earned, an earnings window, and place other regulations and restrictions on NIL earnings.
Tossing out a laundry list of jeremiads, a parade of whataboutism, and a slippery slope of horribles, the NCAA’s strategy was to throw as much at the wall and see what would stick. You name it — from amateurism and competitive imbalance to the death of Title IX athletics to “kids be too dumb to handle money” arguments, we saw it. That’s not to say that these lines of attack were all invalid. Kids do make some mud-dumb decisions; compensations schemes will harm Title IX athletics; NIL rights do disproportionately benefit large programs with superstar players.
If the NCAA stakeholders came prepared to discuss anything, it was granting even the modest concession that some regulation may be necessary. But, its audience was largely an unsympathetic one. What sympathy was to be found, was for the smaller institutions and in particular players’ health and safety.
And the panelists, to a person, were absolutely unprepared to discuss the most critical issue at play: the health and well-being of student-athletes, and especially preventing the transmission of COVID-19.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s voice rose. “Will you commit?” he kept asking. “Will you commit?”
Blumenthal wasn’t getting the answer he wanted. The Connecticut lawmaker’s question, directed toward one of the NCAA’s most prominent leaders, Ohio State president emeritus Michael Drake, was fairly straightforward: Will you, the chairman of the all-powerful NCAA Board of Governors, require athletic departments to disclose the number of positive virus cases among their athletes?
“That’s a HIPAA issue,” he claimed at first.
“I think that will be difficult,” he then said.
“I don’t know,” he later added, “that I have the authority...”
Finally, Drake bent to the questioning. “I believe it’s appropriate for the schools to report the cases.”
Four hours of this yesterday was enough to make any sane person want to throw their remote through the wall...or at least give Mark Emmert a swirlie.
After being forced to confront reality, a prospect no one on the panel wanted to broach, officials became increasingly pessimistic about the prospect of a season. The underlying subtext was, “get off our backs about silly things like a pandemic or you ain’t gettin’ no no football.”
What made the NCAA’s approach especially baffling, is that senators had warned the NCAA months ago that any discussion of NIL rights would and must include student health, and not just the ‘Rona, but also CTE, continuing health care, etc. But, nope. The NCAA came with its laundry list of sympathy trolling and talking points churned out by legal — and nothing else. The Emperor threw a parade, and the first thing pointed out was that they had no clothes.
That pessimism grows increasingly warranted, to be sure. After months of saying the contrary, USC has now thrown its entire season in doubt by opting to move primarily to online classes. The Trojans’ announcement leaves some wiggle-room in there, sure. But it is a hop, skip, and a jump to shutting ‘er all down. If students aren’t on campus, you’re not getting fall sports. And no waiver is going to pass muster either: Congress is already trying to cut schools off at the pass, prohibiting the waiver signings like we saw at Ohio State. And with the Mississippi State alumni association canceling tailgating yesterday, and even some NFL teams prohibited by law from doing so, widespread large gatherings just may not be in the cards in the fall. And that is a reality we must face, no matter how much we want to get back to normal, the arbitrary turning of a calendar page, or the fervent wishes of college administrators who want to take $100 million piggyback rides on their unpaid workforce.
As depressing as the last 24 hours have been for sports fans; it was even more so for college athletes, who are very cognizant of the fact they are being asked to be guinea pigs in this grand experiment.
So why me and my team on campus then? https://t.co/qbY5y0GSbt— Malik Hausman (@LeekHausman) June 30, 2020
For years, I have steadfastly been opposed to student-athletic unions.
Student-Athletes aren’t employees, and they are already generously compensated in-kind. Or, they weren’t employees. But, the NCAA’s response to the national crisis at-hand has completely changed my mind. If it has shown us anything, it is that not only are college athletes employees, but that they have a very dangerous occupation. If we’re going to ask college kids to support our alma mater or to fund our favorite teams in the middle of — waves arms — all this, then pay ‘em, let ‘em unionize, and permanently stay off your hobby horse of amateurism.
Because, it is apparent that the NCAA has no plans in place for anything.
And I, for one, am unwilling to spend a single penny or hour, in support of an endeavor that would force student-athletes into the position of forfeiting their education or risk contracting a potentially-fatal virus just to occupy my Saturdays.