Knight Comm. Hearings: NCAA Student Rep Gushes That He’s Lucky to Get Invited on the ‘Field Trip’

I write this with some trepidation, since my comments will be seen as critical of a “student” representative to the NCAA.

National – Collegiate – Athletic – Association?” If you had just arrived from Mars, perhaps you might have first guessed, from the name alone, that the NCAA might be some kind of governmental body. It’s not. The NCAA is a voluntary, unincorporated association. And, at least partially because of its professed fealty to its own notion of amateurism, the NCAA is categorized under the Internal Revenue Code as a not-for-profit, and pays no taxes on its income.

Your Martian assessment of the name might also have caused you to deduce that the NCAA members are all of the U.S. college students who play sports, including on-campus intramural and club sports. Or, alternatively, all the college professors who play — or teach — sports. Or, perhaps, even, all of the fans of college sports. None of these guesses would have been correct.

453,447 non-members: In fact, the 1,066 NCAA members are the colleges and universities themselves (and affiliated associations and other educational institutions.) The NCAA cites a “record-level” of 463,202 “student-athletes” who participated in NCAA championship sports in 2012-2013, but none of these “National”-in-scope, “College”-attending, “Athletic”-types is allowed to be a member of this “Association” called the NCAA. That makes 453,447 non-members.

The NCSMA — National Collegiate Sports Managers’ Association?: The NCAA framework does include limpid ‘student-athlete advisory committees’ on each campus, meant “to provide insight as to the student-athlete experience” and “input on the rules, regulations and policies that affect student-athletes’ lives.” But those players are not only denied membership status; they have long been deprived of significant voting or decision-making authority, and serve on those committees as unpaid volunteers. The NCAA leaders even, apparently, put a ‘muzzle’ on these SAAC students; according to one SAAC member in 2014, the NCAA wanted “to filter any and everything we say/do,” monitored SAAC members’ social media accounts, and required that all reporters contact the NCAA before speaking with any SAAC members. Probably as a direct result of rising public and player outcry about NCAA exploitation of athletes, along with the numerous legal actions which now threaten the NCAA’s structure and hegemony, in late 2014 it created a forty-person governing Division I Council, which includes, for the first time, three students with voting rights.  Also, in February 2015, the NCAA’s Division I Council recommended the creation of seven new standing committees, with each committee having one voting student representative, drawn from the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

This is the context. At the May 19, 2015 Knight Commission gathering in Washington, there appeared one Kendall Spencer, who apparently is the head person for the national SAAC. It is not clear how he achieved this status; nor is it exactly clear whether he has been, during this past school, a ‘student-athlete’, since internet entries suggest that he last competed as a track and field athlete for the University of New Mexico during the 2013-2014 school year.

I will assume that Mr. Spencer was, at the time he delivered his remarks, a ‘student-athlete.’ But I will nonetheless suggest that Mr. Spencer fell somewhat short of his duty in these circumstances. He appears a hale and well-met fellow, with felicitous instincts toward those with whom he has encounters.

But Mr. Spencer — who is, by any measure, an adult, fully capable of conducting his own affairs, and the affairs of others who he purports to represent — approached these serious affairs in Washington as a mere ingenue, thrilled to have garnered the attention and even grace of those NCAA higher-ups who have allowed him into their rarified rooms. Here is Mr. Spencer, gushing: this is “Great — the student-athlete gets to know what goes on behind the scenes. This is great!”

Mr. Spencer spewed more platitudes: [we need to] “Help our student-athletes get the most that they can out of their college experience,” and then offered that [we are] “really looking at our SAAC committees.”

Then, in a burst of truthfulness, Spencer admitted that the SAAC committees are “focused on community service.”

Drilling down, as they say, Spencer then boldly suggested that “we’re looking at an overall changing model,” and “focusing on that education piece.”

This is the national head of the Student Advisory Committee at the NCAA.  The performance, for anyone with intimate knowledge of both the history of the NCAA and sector-based bargaining, was appalling, as if Mr. Spencer was thrilled merely to have brought along on a sixth-grade field trip.

Fortunately, I was not the only one listening to him who was offended to this ‘Gidget Goes to Washington’ attitude displayed by the NCAA player’s one representative at the Knight hearings: one woman, during the time allotted afterward for audience questions, arose and asked Mr. Spencer, in so many words, whether he would take any position on any issue at all?

Mr. Spencer, it appears, did no preparation at all for his speech at this national gathering, and got up and tried to bullshit the attendees. Contrast this presentation with the one given by Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, with whom I have many disagreements on issues of substance, which reflected not only Swarbrick’s fine intelligence, but the fact that he respected his national audience by giving them an extremely thorough, but also well-organized and very well-reasoned  presentation.

And Spencer came to the dais with a fundamental shortcomings: he represents the non-revenue sport athlete. If the NCAA were in the habit of dealing from the top of the deck (which it is not), it would have insured that a “revenue” player — whose performance effort is at the hub of the NCAA’s multi-billion dollar empire — would be designated as the SAAC national head. Mr. Spencer, as a non-revenue player, staked out no positions on any of the many pressing issues which are forcing change upon the NCAA. Perhaps Mr. Spencer should recommend someone like Simon Cvijanovic of Illinois as his replacement.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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