(Below is an entirely fictional interview, conducted by Wisconsin basketball player Nigel Hayes, of the late, great economist and sports labor pioneer Marvin Miller, on the question of a March Madness Final Four Player’s Strike.)
Nigel Hayes: Well, Mr. Miller, I know you’ve only been gone for three years, but you’ve probably been keeping an eye on things, so you probably know that there’s been a lot of unrest and talk about giving big-time college athletes more power, and even pay. What do you think we should do?
Marvin Miller: Call me Marvin. It’s odd, really, you big-time college players, right now, in so many ways, you’re just like my major league baseball players when they hired me on a shoestring back in ’67. No money. No power. No leader. Lots of country-poor blacks, doin’ all the work. They couldn’t pay me, so I ginned-up some money through their baseball card contracts – which paid ’em only $125 a year, believe it or not. Bought and sold and bullied — that’s what they were.
Hayes: So you know about some of the talk over the years, about March Madness player strikes. UNLV players under Tark in ’91, they were going to strike the final game, after they beat Duke – then they lost to Duke.
Miller: Yea, there’s been some scratching around, just like Curt Flood scratched for us, just like you’re scratchin’ now for your players. I know back in ’85, Tennessee running back Charles Davis, he did summer workouts with Dick DeVenzio, that ex-Duke basketball guard did a whole lotta scratching for NCAA players, he was barkin’ at an NCAA moon long before any other dogs started in, and he saw through this whole wacko NCAA profit machine — what I call Shamateurism. And Charles Davis was gonna strike, but his trainer got wind of it, so Davis knew his coach knew too – so Davis’d never even get on the field. PT – Playing Time – those college players, they’re all slaves to it. So that strike never happened.
Hayes: — Shamateurism – I like that. And you probably saw Mizzou, a couple years ago – the team made a demand, and two days later, the university president was gone.
Miller: Yup. And a year ago, basketball players at Queens College in New York city, they refused to practice until the school got rid of their abusive head coach – and the school got rid of him!
Hayes: So if some Final Four players are thinking of striking, how much money should they demand before they go out on the court and play?
Hayes: Uh – don’t ask for any money?
Miller: Not a penny.
Hayes: I, uh, I guess I don’t understand.
Miller: Sure, you can try it, but money — that’s not your first problem. Don’t get me wrong, Nigel, you Revenue players need and deserve money. Lots of it. And you need a specific demand — as Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.”
Let me explain. When I started in ’67, baseball players had no power. Nothing. I couldn’t even get a meeting with the baseball owners. They didn’t care about me, and they didn’t care about their players. They did whatever they damn well pleased with my players. What happened was, eventually, they had to meet with us, cuz of labor laws and other pressures we put on ’em. And pretty soon, we got into their Board Rooms. That’s what you Revenue players need. In the law books, they call that Sector-Based power and negotiating. For me, I just called it Getting into their Board Rooms. So you can get a seat at the table, and they gotta talk to you.
Hayes: Well, the NCAA voted a couple years ago, after O’Bannon got them all nervous, to let one player on its 24-member Board of Directors, and two players on the 40-member D-1 Council.
Miller: So now we’re getting’ down to it. Yes they did. But those players on those Boards have always been from Non-Revenue sports. Nigel, if I’d had to fight for my major league player’s rights and money by using minor league players, I’d be dead now, and they’d still be paying some other executive director with a small skim off of baseball card contracts, with no player power or money in the end. It’s the same with those Student-Athlete-Advisory Committees on every campus. Those few Non-Revenue board members, those SAACs – they’re just the owner’s captive unions.
Let me talk dollars a sec, Nigel. First, the NCAA gets $1 Billion from that 3-week March Madness tournament – every year! And there’s 64 teams, 768 players. Second, the NBA, NFL, MLB – they basically split revenues 50-50 with the players – that’s been the rule of thumb for years. Third, if you March Madness players went half-sies on that $1 billion with the owners, you players would walk away with $651,042 – each. That’s what O’Bannon Judge Wilken called the “Real Money At Issue. And that money’s why they call you Revenue players.
Hayes: But I thought you didn’t want us to strike for money?
Miller: I don’t, I’m just trying to lead where you need to go. Here’s what you should strike for: Full, complete voting membership in the ‘ole En-Cee-Two-Ay.
Hayes: Well, uh –
Miller: Full NCAA membership. Not for some tennis player, or some golf guy, but for the guys who make all of the money for the NCAA. The NCAA — all those silk-tie guys — they spend OPM — ‘Other People’s Money.” And you, Nigel, and the other 816 players – you make that money.
Hayes: But we can’t, well, I mean we’re not, like, coaches, we’re not AD’s — we’re not even adults, you can’t just hand over the NCAA to a bunch of kids.
Miller (rising out of his chair, face flushing with color, now peering down at Hayes next to him): I am, without permission, going to call you Mr. Hayes from here on in – and here’s why. You are not a kid. None of you players are kids anymore. That went out the window by 1980, but the NCAA, coaches, AD’s – all of ’em – they all pretend that every judge in this country never threw out that old in loco parentis doctrine by 1980. Before that, the college was the student’s nanny, operating “in place of the parent,” and could control the student just about any old way it wanted.
And the NCAA still pretends that the 26th Amendment never got passed in 1971, and pretends that, by 1980, every state did not lower the age of majority from 21 to 18. Mr. Hayes, that whole Nanny-College thing got chucked out the window by 1980, and after that, every player was an adult, with rights, and the right to engage in activities that adults engage in. But you’d never know talkin’ with these NCAA guys, they’re as clueless – and devious – as Bowie Kuhn. And Mr. Hayes: they love to dress up in Mary Poppins costumes, and talk to you like they’re just minding your sandbox for you
Hayes: Well, yes, Ok, Ok, would you please, um, sit down again, please, Marvin. But what’s some Mary Poppins costumes have to do with it?
Miller: Here’s what, Mr. Hayes. When they threw that Nanny-College thing out the window, all those schools, and the NCAA – they lost every basis for excluding you and your Revenue brethren from being full-fledged NCAA members. And that’s what you strike for: full-fledged, full voting-rights NCAA membership for all 768 March Madness players And those players vote to select one player from each school to be a voting representative to the NCAA. Those 64 chosen then serve — 24 player-reps on the Board, and 40 player-reps on the Council. And Boom! — you’ve Gotten Into the Board Room, you’re at the table, and you’ve got shared voting rights. 24 player reps, with 24 school reps. 40 player reps with 40 school reps. And you don’t even need a union to get there!
Hayes: Dude! Yea, I think I’m likin’ this. Yea, this is cool.
Miller: Let me give you another tiny hint. These NCAA chnuckleheads have seen 25 years of revenue increases that would make Warren Buffet blush –but they won’t give you independent arbitration, truly independent medical care, they won’t even pay for the same quality of insurance that they place on their buildings! That’s the kind of thing you act on, things that no decent human being (other than those chuckleheads) would ever possibly allow, and you take those to vote. And remember that $651,042 per-player payout I told you about? — you vote on that. No more taxation without representation, Mr. Hayes.
And then, Mr. Hayes, you’re gonna need some staff, once you’re on those Boards. Do what that Athletic Director’s powerful lobbying group (LEAD1) is doing these days: accept $75,000 gifts from vendors who sell to their own schools. It violates almost every public school’s state anti-bribery statutes, or school regulations – but if it’s ok for them, it’s gonna be just fine for you, Mr. Hayes, when you are in the Board Room, with a seat at the table, with equal voting rights, and some staff. Think of yourself, and all of the other 767 March Madness players, as Adults. Board members. And owners.
Hayes: Whoa. Yea. Whoa. Dude, how I can thank you?
Miller: Mr.. Hayes, when all 64 of your guys sit down at the Board’s conference table, just make sure the name plates say ‘Mister’ on them – just for me. You’re all adults. Board members. Owners. And remember — I’m watching.
copyright 2017 William Wilson