Last week, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald voiced very strong opposition to the formation of a players’ union in his program. He said, among other things, that he was an “educator,” not an “employer” and that this is not “what I signed up to be.”
No word yet on whether Fitzgerald would resign and walk away from his $2 million plus annual salary, if the players voted to unionize. It’s important to remember in all this that the question of whether the players are employees has already been settled. If they vote not to unionize, their status as employees – they are – will not change, unless Northwestern is successful in its appeal of the NLRB’s regional office ruling. Most commentators have regarded that outcome as unlikely.
In the meantime, I can’t help but note that if Pat Fitzgerald and major college coaches in general are educators, they are *highly* unusual ones. I myself am an educator by profession, and there is very little that my job has in common with Pat’s. I also have lots of friends who are educators, both at the college level and in K-12. I can say confidently that the nature of Fitzgerald’s work would be unrecognizable to them as well.
1) that salary – it’s the equivalent of 10-40 years of pay for the range of educators I know personally. No one I know is in the ballpark, the parking lot or the highway on the way to that playing space.
2) Fitzgerald’s charges, according to the NLRB ruling, are required to secure his approval before they are allowed to seek outside employment. I have zero say over what my students do outside the confines of whatever course they are taking with me. Again, I speak confidently for all my other educator friends in this regard.
3) Northwestern football players are also required to provide detailed information about what kind of car they drive. This would be extraordinarily unusual in the typical teacher-student relationship, unless the teacher happened to be the parent of the student in question.
4) when the players, I mean students, maintain social media accounts, they are prohibited from denying a friend request from their coaches, so that they can have their activities on those sites monitored. See above, under “except for parents.”
5) NW football players are required, in their first two years, to live on campus. According to the NLRB ruling, “Only upperclassmen are permitted to live off campus and even then they are required to to submit their lease to Fitzgerald for his approval before they can enter into it.”
Again, I know of no student-teacher relationship in which such an arrangement would be conceivable.
I also know of no teacher who has control over a student’s scholarship. Academic scholarships are under the control of university administrators, or programs under their charge. In no case that I am aware is a teacher empowered to revoke a student’s scholarship.
Fitzgerald is, to be fair, also in a highly unusual position for an employer, because most employers do not exercise the extent of control over their workers in contemporary America that college coaches do. But that’s because the employment model in major collegiate athletics is an anachronistic one, more characteristic of the nature of work in the once commonplace company towns than it is of work in the 21st century.
John Calipari just told Mike Greenberg that if you allowed basketball players to go straight to the NBA, they would start blowing off their classes in high school, and you’d have “thousands” in that position.
Yeah, thousands. Or maybe five or six or so a year. Same dif…
Can we have a remotely honest and grounded discussion about these issues?
Coach Cal is also making a big push to re-brand “one and done.” Henceforth, he wants everyone to use the phrase “succeed and proceed,” which sounds like a fancy way of saying “guys will leave school when they think they’re ready.” He can blather all he likes about an education, but forcing all athletes to stay in school for an extra year, as he now says he endorses, is not about an education at all. It’s about helping coaches more predictably manage personnel decision, i.e. recruiting. I appreciate his push to ensure that parents of less well-off kids could be flown to tournament games and such, but extending the age limit by a year is not in the interests of the athletes. It’s sole serious purpose is to extend further control over the players. No one should be fooled by this, even if Coach Cal sounds deadly earnest. At least the NBA folks pushing to increase the age minimum aren’t pretending they are acting in the interests of the players.
The NCAA’s Legislative Council approved a rule change today that will allow Division I athletes “unlimited meals and snacks in conjunction with their participation.” The change takes place effective August 1 and will be a supplement to the standard meal plans that athletes already receive. Within hours of UConn’s national championship victory last Monday night, star senior guard Shabazz Napier said he often went to bed hungry and he’s not the only high profile college athlete to say so, and juxtaposed to the evermore lavish and commerically-drenched spectacle that is the NCAA tournament, caused college athletics another embarrassing round of bad publicity.
The NCAA announced other new rules as well, including a longer break time for football players during preseason camps.
The immediate impetus for these changes would appear to be the looming threat of unionization is terrifying the NCAA. The announced reforms today are, in the grand scheme of things, trivial fixes. But there is mounting pressure on multiple legal fronts. As I wrote last week, the mere prospect of unionization will induce changes, since the member schools no longer have *all* the leverage in their dealings with the players. The Northwestern vote next Friday remains very significant. Even if the players vote not to unionize, though, the NCAA will remain on the defensive. Today’s changes are small potatoes, but they are nevertheless the actions of an increasingly desperate enterprise.I confess – I am biased in favor of college athletes having some rights and privileges beyond those specifically conferred by the NCAA.
- Jonathan Weiler