How the Knight Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics is Like the Ford Foundation, But Alot Worse

The Knight Foundation on Intercollegiate Athletics purports to be an agent for change in college sports. Yes, that college sports which now, after the basketball indictments and trials, has no idea who’s corrupt, and who’s not.

Knight is hardly an agent for change. They are all really nice people. But they don’t get the basic facts about college athletics. They continually assemble fat-cat bureaucrats, to scratch heads together. Everyone at the Knight Foundation is well-paid, and the attendees are well paid — all well into the silk-tie stage of bureaucratic ponderousness which can only persist if everyone has a really good salary and pension.

Back in the ’50’s and ’60’s, the Ford Foundation (at the time, the largest charitable foundation in the world) was alot like Knight Foundation, throwing mountains of money at Milton Friedman and his ‘Chicago School,’ of economists, who were running around South America, encouraging dictators like Chile’s Pinochet, but other autocrats and neo-liberal fascists, who wanted the poor to assume a larger portion of their countries’ debts. And Ford was, with its multi-millions, funding all those dictators and neo-liberals. The figurative and literal carnage was staggering. Corpses everywhere, both human and governmental.

Ford thought they had been doing good, but they finally figured it out, in the 1970′ –, that all the millions of dollars they had so charitably thrown around at these neo-liberals was destroying people and economies, in part because Ford had failed to make their millions flow to anyone other than rich people who held the power.

Knight Foundation is pre-1970’s Ford Foundation. Amy Perko, a great person, with good intentions, and also her employer Knight Foundation, have failed to finally understand that the same kind of radical re-ordering of the Knight Foundations is required. It’s time to end the habit of inviting fat-cat lobbyists like Tom McMillen, or other bureaucrats, to attend meetings. It’s time, just as Ford Foundation did it, to start throwing the money at the sector which is getting screwed: the (primarily black) players who have no agent, no union, no pension, no health coverage, no workers’ comp  — but who are the beasts of burden for the production of what is now something like $8 billion annually.  The little guy needs huge help.

First example? Ramogi Huma, who has been laboring with few resources, and quietly and respectfully, for the interests of the big-time college athlete who gets ripped off by so many of those on the Knight Board, should be a board member. Or try Colin Kaepernick, whose presence might do a whole lot more than some board member from some irrelevant Div 3 school.  Knight should be funding Andy Schwarz’ HBCU effort to set up some alternative to the pathological NCAA big-time sports model, and put Schwarz on its Board. Knight should be funding Ann McKee, and her BU Concussion. Try David Ridpath of the Drake Group, who knows from personal experience how convoluted, if not sinister, the NCAA enforcement process is for those characters who are, unlike big-time coaches and administrators, lacking in any political or financial heft.

In the 1960’s, the Ford Foundation spent a miniscule portion of its budget on human rights, and much of its spending went to funding academics who did studies; by the 70’s and 80’s, Ford did a U-Turn, and decided to spend a mammoth $30 million on grass roots human rights work in Latin America; as Naomi Klein summarized, “in the mid-70’s, Ford transformed itself from a producer of ‘technical expertise’ for the … Third World, to its role as a leading funder of human rights activism.”

Knight’s spending and operational priorities show that the organization fails to understand the central tension in college sports, which is the same one Marvin Miller confronted when he was hired (at zero salary) in 1967, to try to gin-up some union protections for MLB players: the owners have all the power and money. Now, the NCAA school-owners have all the power and money.  And it’s awful easy, if you’re Amy Perko, or other Knight people, to just work with and support all those really nice, and well-dressed bureaucrats who now live off of basketball and football millions generated primarily by black players who have almost zero voice.

And, though the status of current D-1 football and basketball players is probably worse than that of the MLB players who Miller pulled out of the economic gutter after 1967, Knight Foundation has done little to help the underclass in a college sports business model which generates some $8-10 BILLION per year. Yet Knight operates as though the raging riot of commerce which is today’s college sports is not much different that it was back in the early 1990’s.

Knight, right now, wastes its time and money. It needs to be a radical agent for change.

First agenda item?:  SAFETY FIRST.  Long-term health coverage for football players who are stunt men for the public’s pleasure. And: Non-Negotiable.

Knight’s main problem? Nobody there is pissed off.

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Maryland Football Needs a Player-Safety Rep, and Safety Punchlist

Jordan McNair died a year ago. Maryland football had a month to get ready for the practice at which he collapsed (the first practice of the summer), and they screwed it up, by failing to have on premises an ice bath which would have quickly solved McNair’s heat exhaustion symptoms.

Since the McNair investigations were completed, several factors have been left dangling:

New Maryland Statute

The state of Maryland just passed a statute which requires that each university “develop a system whereby their student-athletes can express concerns about what is happening on their team to somebody outside of the athletic department.” The details of such a system are left wide open.

Player Safety Representative

That ‘system’ should include a Player Safety Representative, selected by the Maryland football team, who can represent player interests, and “express concerns about” safety matters, consistent with the statute’s mandate.

 Funding for Player Safety Rep

That system should also, consistent with the statute, include a budget allocation, to provide funding to allow the Maryland Player Safety Rep to: a) have his own paid ‘Safety Quality Control’ advisor, available on a part-time, on-call basis, perhaps drawn from the University’s schools of medicine or kinesiology; and b) retain other independent sources to advise on specific issues. (Such costs are precisely the kind of expenses “tethered to education” which the recent O’Bannon and Alston decisions have encouraged.)

First-Practice Safety Punchlist

There were five — not one, but five — athletic trainers on the field when Jordan McNair collapsed. The subsequent independent report by Trainer Walters was so amateurish and disorganized (no freshman English prof would have accepted its structure and editing) — but also lacking in any background or reference to common industrial risk-prevention procedures —  that it is hard to tell what changes will actually be in effect when Maryland football starts in again, here on this one-year anniversary of McNair’s death.

Walters and Maryland should have devised a simple, step-by-step, brand-new safety paradigm, for use by every Big Ten school.

In the vacuum left by Walters, I will suggest a simple first step: publication and use of a First-Practice Safety Punchlist. This is hardly a novel notion, having long been in use in construction and other high-risk trades: a safety expert reviews every risk, and every risk-reducing action, equipment, or personnel, and signs off on the review. (And the punchlist itself should be devised with input from the Player Safety Rep.)

Just Imagine

The preservation of the student-athlete in higher education adds richness and diversity to intercollegiate athletics and is entirely consistent with the goals of the Sherman Act,” (Regents vs. NCAA, 1984) 

If the five trainers on the field one year ago had been required to consult with a Player Safety Rep, and then use, and sign-off on, a thorough Safety Punchlist, before any practice could be held:

Jordan McNair would still be alive.

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Zion Williamson’s Nike-Shoe Implosion: Scams and Player Safety

Thirty seconds into Duke’s game with UNC last night, Duke freshman star Zion Williamson went down with a knee injury. But this was no run-of-the-mill knee injury: Williamson’s Nike PG 2.5 PE shoe just blew up: the video showed that the right sole separated entirely from the upper.

The incident illustrates a recurring theme in college sports: NCAA amateurism creates, for D-1 football and basketball players, an unacceptable risk to player safety and long-term career earnings. It also highlights the role of NCAA and apparel-supplier scams used to fool the public about the economic realities behind such apparel-supply arrangements.
Why was Williamson, for example — a player with a career earning potential in the $100s of millions — wearing a cheap $110 shoe?

Williamson’s Job as a Nike-Promoter

“Contract Factory Partners” and “Contract Promoter Partners”: Nike makes nothing, and owns no factories. It is a for-profit middleman. Two primary categories of entities produce for Nike: a) “Contract Factory Partners.” [Nike’s own label.] These are the many factories, owned by non-Nike, foreign entities, with whom Nike contracts to produce the shoes and apparel; b) Contract Promoter Partners [my label]. These are the many colleges and universities, publicly or privately owned, with whom Nike contracts to produce the advertising for the shoes and apparel Nike distributes.

Each of these Partners employ their own workforce. Factory Partners tend to employ underpaid foreign workers, so that Nike per-shoe costs remain artificially low; Promoter Partners employ their own workforce, using unpaid ‘amateur’ college players, so that Nike per-shoe advertising costs remain artificially low. (Nike use of these intermediary ‘partners’ also shields the company from liability for employment or product-defect claims.)
Two falsehoods — scams — operate to hide the reality of these commercial arrangements, by fooling the public consumer of shoes and apparel, and college sports commerce.

Scam #1: Nike actually makes the product

Scam #2: Nike Merely ‘Supports’ Duke, with ‘Free’ Product

Scam #2 uses a falsehood upon which both Nike and its Promoter Partners — the universities — heavily rely: that shoes and apparel are provided by Nike to the school for ‘free,’ because Nike merely wants to “support” the school. See, for example, this excerpt from UNC’s 2018 Nike contract. (Duke won’t release its presumably similar contract.):

“Nike desires to support the [UNC] Intercollegiate athletic programs by supplying athletic footwear and other products for use in its Intercollegiate athletic programs.”

This is like telling your friend that you bought a new $50,000 pickup truck because you ‘desire to support’ the truck dealer. Nike purchases, for substantial sums (including both cash and in-kind payment), extraordinarily valuable promotion services offered by each school. This is a purely commercial transaction, and Nike’s shoes and apparel are not ‘free’ to the school, because the school, in return, must provide promotion services.
But there’s more to it than that, because the transaction between Nike and Duke (or other schools) employs two other scams to conceal the essence of the Contract Factory and Contract Promoter commercial arrangements:

Scam #3: The School is Selling its Promotional Services

Duke does not sell its promotional services to Nike. Instead, the school is selling-off a major, cherished piece of its NCAA-defined ‘amateurism’: its Institutional Control over the player. The school doesn’t provide promotional services; the player does. But the school controls that player — and it is that control which Duke sells-off, when it enters into its Promoter-Partner contract with Nike.

Scam #4: The Coach Provides Honest Services for His Nike-Pay

The Coach purports to provide services for the pay he receives from Nike (or the school’s contract with Nike). Sure, his services are ‘fluffed-up’ by both parties to the contract, using lofty terms like “ambassador for the brand,” or “advisor” — or even camp counselor (Nike and coaches run summer camps.) This is nonsense, because the coach is being paid to also sell-off (and get rich from) the same thing which the school sells-off: his control over the player. (The 2014 contract between Adidas and former head coach Pitino, for example, mandated that he “require” his players to wear Adidas; in 2017, the Michigan basketball player was provided with Nike ‘travel’ shoes, only after affirming this statement: “I understand that this is a team-issued travel shoe that I am expected to wear.”) Nike has even built a ‘Coach K’ fitness center at its Oregon headquarters, presumably to insure that Duke and Coach K will stick with Nike — and that Coach K will continue to require that his players wear Nike.
So Zion Williamson is required to wear the Nike shoe handed to him by his ‘employer’ — Duke — which has previously sold its control over him to Nike. And Nike wants him to wear a relatively cheap shoe, which would be worn by the average, non-superstar kid or consumer, so that the average consumer will buy that shoe. This is like requiring Barnum and Bailey’s best trapeze artist to perform on a back-yard swing set. Every shoe worn by Zion Williamson (or other D-1 basketball or football player) should be the best basketball shoe which can be made — and subject to, before use, thorough, relentless — and transparent — product safety-and-fitness testing. Zion’s shoes apparently weren’t.
Duke, Coach K, and Nike have all, without excuse, other than conflicting financial self-interest, failed Zion Williamson — and unnecessarily endangered, once again, the health, safety, and career earning-prospects of the very D-1 basketball or football player who provides the promotion Nike cherishes.

Mandate that Shoe Companies Provide Loss-of-Value Coverage for D-1 Basketball and Football Players

So what can be quickly and easily done? First, remember that, no matter what silliness you’re told, NCAA amateurism is not a purely ‘no-pay’ amateurism. The NCAA bylaws say that any player benefit, pay, or special arrangement is perfectly fine if “expressly authorized by NCAA legislation.” The NCAA can vote to allow each player to be provided with candelabras, or pickup trucks, if it wants.
Zion Williamson got hurt not just while wearing a shoe provided for the commercial profit others enjoyed: the cause of Williamson’s injury was the shoe. He provides the promotion, with no pay; he should not be required to assume all the cost of injury — particularly where Nike’s shoe apparently caused it. NCAA legislation should be immediately passed to require that any D-1 school shoe or apparel contract include a provision mandating that the shoe or apparel provider fund loss-of-value insurance for any basketball or football player. What’s so difficult about that?

Copyright William Wilson 2019

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The Two Unrecognized NCAA Sports Stories of 2018

Big time college athletics are in a state of flux. Judge Wilkens’ decision in the Alston case, which might soon issue, could be game-changing. The federal wire fraud indictments, once all resolved, might cause schools and coaches to more slavishly adhere to the prissy constraints, outlined by NCAA bylaws, which have so commonly been ignored. But some other events cast a new light upon the end result of the Northwestern football organizing effort, in which the regional office deemed the football player an employee, but the Board declined, due to “labor stability” questions, to assert jurisdiction, and dismissed the petition.

Two sets of events might give clues as to how current players can significantly increase their current authority, voice, and power:

In the spring of 2018, a wave of teacher activism erupted out of nowhere. In West Virginia, teachers tired of years without a raise, deteriorating school infrastructure, and deaf ears they had repeatedly encountered at the state legislature, staged a nine-day walkout, and  eventually gained a 5 per cent pay raise. In Oklahoma, teacher agitation led to the state legislature approving a teacher raise, and significant increases in school funding. The movement spread west to Arizona, and Colorado. All in all, there have been six states where teachers have walked-out, or threatened to: Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Those are all weak union states.


Two years ago, student workers at Grinnell College, a private school in Grinnell, Iowa, formed their own Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers. By December of 2018, they were faced with a decision-by-ballot, as to whether to strike for better wages and benefits. The vote narrowly failed, but the union committed to push for its aims through negotiation with the college.

The entire body of student dining workers, at campuses across the U.S., is not a weak union. It is no union at all. None. There have been — at least until Grinnell students changed things — no undergraduate student collective bargaining efforts. (Every other union-organizing effort on campus had been either at the faculty or graduate-student level.)


Before you click away from this post: yes, this is about NCAA college sports, because these two scenarios whisper two things to big-time college athletes:

Organizing to gain power does not require a union

The teacher movements were all undertaken without much union representation or action. Some of them required no such union involvement. These were largely completely grassroots, email, or facebook groups of affected employees. The campaigns were at little or no cost. They spread like wildfire. And they had extraordinary impact.

Undergraduate students who perform non-academic work can organize under state or federal statutes.

Private educational institutions are subject to the federal NLRA statute; public entities are subject to state collective bargaining laws. Both can logically be applied to students who happen to do other work on campus — like those student dining hall workers on the Grinnell campus.  Or — like college football and basketball players.

The lesson?: Power 5 ‘revenue’ basketball and football players need to:

Form a facebook or other online group (to which admission is gained by showing bona fide status), to merely exchange information, and bounce questions around. Simple, without administrative infrastructure — just as, for example, a 23-year old teacher in Arizona formed the Arizona Educators United, on Facebook, which exploded into a major vehicle for state-wide communication among Arizona teachers. Power 5 revenue athletes need a similar online forum.

Consider attempts to organize athletes as student workers, just as the Grinnell undergraduate dining workers did.

Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers . . . Union of Power 5 Student Football and Basketball Workers . . .

Arizona Educators United . . . Power 5 Football and Basketball Workers United . . .




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Maryland Football: Students Should Press to Make Durkin Firing ‘For-Cause’

Maryland’s students, and its Student-Government Association, are debating the posture they should assume relative to the firing of Coach D.J. Durkin, and how to support the football players.

Because those students collectively contribute $12 million annually to the Athletic Department, the students have the right to object to the firing of former coach D.J. Durkin without cause — which will apparently, cost the school some $7 million. (A for-cause firing would cost the school nothing.) Continue reading

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Maryland Football: Students Are Part-Owners, and Should Have Voice and Vote in Athletic Department

In response to the scandal surrounding the death of football player Jordan McNair, the University of Maryland student body, led by its Student Government Association, might have been the prime mover in triggering the firing of coach D.J. Durkin, and the resignation of Regents chair Jim Brady.  The courage of the SGA and the student body is commendable; it also helped expose one of the major, unrecognized structural defects in the governance of big-time college football.


Students Are Part-Owners of the Football Team

Because each of Maryland’s 30,000 students pays a mandated athletic fee of $406, the Athletic Department annually receives a total of $12 million dollars from them. Collectively, the students should be considered part owners of the football and other teams. Because of that financial support, and because the athletes are also SGA members, the SGA should have a permanent position in: 1) the Maryland athletic department; 2) football operations; and 3) any group assigned to consider and implement the recommendations set forth in the DLA Piper and Walters ‘McNair Reports.’ Continue reading

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Maryland Football and D.J. Durkin: Death Penalty for the Death of a Player

Maryland 320-pound lineman Jordan McNair died. Strength Coach Court was allowed to ‘resign,’ with a $300,000 severance Now we find that the Maryland Board of Regents, which must have hired MSU Interim President Engler as Consultant-Bungler-in-Chief, has decided that Court’s boss, head football coach D.J. Durkin, need not head for any exit. Taking a cue from Donald Trump’s Ouija Board approach to evaluating people, the head of the Maryland Regents, one Jim Brady, who made his money selling temporary and other housing to institutions all over the country, has concluded that Mr. Durkin is a ‘good man’ and ‘good coach.’


Of course Mr. Durkin, he of the ‘do-your-job,’ and ‘be accountable’ coaching fraternity, told Mr. Brady and his Board that he didn’t even know if he was Mr. Court’s boss. Durkin, we all should know (though Brady could not fathom) is not what any of us — or any in the coaching community — can call a ‘stand-up guy.’  He’s a coward. He threw Court under the bus, and sucked his own thumb while he did it. Continue reading

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Maryland and MSU show that NCAA Commitment to “Welfare of the Student-Athlete” is Hogwash

We have just been informed that the NCAA has “cleared” MSU, as regards the athletic swamp which was generated by Dr. Nasser. Allowing for us all a brief moment of silence, this is still a little much. Cleared? Continue reading

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OSU Still Buries the Facts and Covers the Tracks, and Mary Jo White Will be Exposed as a Hired Gun

If you are a student in Communications or PR at a Big Ten school, you might want consider transfer, because its member schools have recently tended to write colorful Harvard Business school case studies to illustrate exactly how horribly PR crises can be handled. And, now that we’re some 8 years post-Jim Tressel scandal, I’m embarrassed, but also dismayed, to here state that, among those schools which have had serious PR crises — PSU, OSU, MSU, Rutgers, and Maryland –Penn State has done it best. Yes, Penn State. Not that they’ve done it well; just the best of a bad lot. And, now that I think of it, that list of five schools should be expanded to six, because we need to add Ohio State in twice (Tressel scandal in 2010 – ’11; then again with Meyer in ’18) Continue reading

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Mary Jo White-Wash: OSU Report Dots the ‘i’ in ‘Script Ohio’ for Meyer and AD Smith

There she is, Mary Jo White, silver tuba glinting in the sun, marching in step behind the baton-waving drum major, around and about the moving, living ‘Script Ohio‘ text message which is spelling out, O, then H, then I, then O, unfolding on the grand green pre-game OSU Horseshoe stadium, until White is at that spot, and the crowd is fully-frenzied, the band blares, and White overtly sweeps one leg out and around a quarter-turn at a time, to bow grandly, north, east, south, and then west, the crowd exploding — and then bows swiftly down to deliver her 23-page whitewash report to the sacred turf, to serve as the dot on the ‘i’ of the ‘Script Ohio.’ Continue reading

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