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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Jordan McNair’s Death: Human Errors, Checklists, and Need for Radical Change


Jordan McNair’s death at Maryland football tells us that something is very rotten in college football safety; top-to-bottom change is needed. Some random thoughts:

1. Is there an App for that? Jordan McNair’s life would have easily been saved, had there been a 7 year old kid there, able to tap a cellphone app, to pop up the quick-and-dirty checklist for handling heat exhaustion. Atul Gawande revolutionized medicine, and slashed medical error rates, by insisting upon use of basic, simple checklists to be applied, not just in surgery, but in clinical and other situations. Gawande’s great accomplishment was finding simple ways to eliminate predictable, recurring human errors. Medical and injury practices in college football need similar checklists. Continue reading

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McNair Death: Maryland’s Non-Doctor Doing Non-Autopsy ‘Review.’ NCAA? — Safety-R-Not-Us

After collapsing at a May 29 Maryland football “organized workout,” lineman Jordan McNair was quickly hospitalized. According to a GoFundMe site set up by friends after his hospitalization, McNair had a liver transplant there, and died on June 13. The Maryland athletics department has released few details about the circumstances leading to his hospitalization and death, other than that McNair had shown some difficulty in “recovering” while performing ten 110-yd sprints. No cause of death has been announced or even alluded to. Continue reading

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Dept of Education to NCAA Player: the ‘Student-Athlete Statement’ FERPA Waiver is Illegal

The ‘Student-Athlete-Statement’ which the NCAA and school require that the player sign is no statement. It is a bewildering mash-up of cleverly-disguised efforts to induce the player to sign away every possible economic opportunity which might come his way. And it is where all the action is: when faced with antitrust challenge, or when presenting the SAS to the player, the NCAA portrays it as a mere ‘eligibility’ statement. But when the NCAA and school seek to sanction the player for violation of one or more of the thousands of rules in its manual, they claim he has agreed to be bound by them because of his SAS affirmation that he has “read and understands” them. This preposterously global pledge — which should cause any person even vaguely familiar with the impenetrable wilderness of that manual to respond with this Churchill retort: “I should think it was hardly possible to state the opposite of the truth with more precision” – serves as the primary basis for any NCAA claim that the player is bound by contract. Continue reading

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