There's a website called Return of Kings written for 20-something men that reduces the sexual politics of the social messaging dating age down to their raw, unforgiving essence. At times, it can be mean and soulless ("Why older women need to just go away" is a recent post) but it gives its target audience a strategy for dealing with the world and claiming what they want, though you can argue the merits of their tactics.
In a similar way, there are times where it's necessary to cut through cozy, feel-good arguments, and say things just how they are in other contexts. In the matter of recent Duck news headlines and their impact on the future of Oregon football, here's a two-minute blast of reality, no matter how impolitic and unpalatable it might be.
It was reported yesterday on goducks.com and elsewhere that Arik Armstead quit the men's basketball team to concentrate on football, giving him the opportunity to spend a crucial winter working on strength, quickness and technique. A junior in 2014, he becomes draft eligible at the end of the year.
NFL scouts and national pundits like Ted Miller of ESPN have often said that Armstead's true position is offensive tackle, where his long arms, good feet and athletic ability can be used to full advantage.
If he wanted to switch, the time is right now. Kyle Long played defensive end in his first year at Saddleback, played offensive tackle as a sophomore. Switched to guard by Steve Greatwood, he earned a first round contract and a trip to the pro bowl.
That said, the Ducks have a much bigger need at DT than anywhere else on the field, and that's where he wants to play. This season they have a three-year starter in Jake Fisher at right tackle, a two-year starter, Tyler Johnstone on the blind side. Meanwhile, Ron Aiken's defensive line graduated five defensive tackles after the Alamo Bowl.
But I wonder how long Armstead's basketball career would have lasted if he had told Dana Altman he wanted to be a point guard. While allowing players to choose their position is a useful recruiting tool, players don't always evaluate themselves with the clearest and most mature eyes.
Meanwhile at Northwestern University, football players are seeking to join a union. According to a story in CNN Money by writer Chris Isidore, an undisclosed number of Wildcat players have given signatures of support for the National College Players Association. New union president Ramogi Huma, a former college quarterback, has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, and they have backing from the United Steelworkers. Steelworkers president Leo Gerard participated in the press conference.
Whether this is good for college football or not, this is real, and it's happening.
Players say they want a fairer share of the revenues, and a seat at the table in issues like graduation rates and player safety.
Critics say "there is a difference between generating gross revenues and generating net profits." That's true but unreasonable, part of the dodge created by the NCAA. Football and men's basketball generate so much money that the NCAA has a $68 million dollar surplus, and coaches get paid anywhere from two to six million apiece. March Madness is the most lucrative sports product in television, bigger than the Super Bowl.
At some point, Title IX concerns will meet head on with the fact that without the talent, effort and sacrifices of major sport athletes, the entire empire ceases to exist.
The fact that athletic budgets and athletic directors' generous salaries are paid out the huge revenues they're producing won't matter: when the athletes organize or litigate to get a fair share of it, they're likely to win. They'll come to the table and say, you're going to have to redivide that pie to include us, regardless of who you baked it for. The kitchen may erupt in flames, but the plights of women's lacrosse and Mark Helfrich's car allowance won't put it out.
The fact that it would be costly and inconvenient to pay college football players (above the table), even potentially disastrous, won't prevent it from happening.
How much is a star athlete like Marcus Mariota or Ifo Ekpre-Olomu worth to the Oregon Athletic Department?
The players' association has 11 articles that seem reasonable. Paid medical bills for team related injuries and no loss of scholarship upon injury. Reduce brain trauma, etc... Universities make a ton of money from collegiate sports and they should treat their players fairly.
I like the system the way it is now. These young men get a full ride scholarship for 4-5 years and the opportunity to get a degree from the University of Oregon at almost no cost to them. Only 2-3% go on to the pro's and of those the average career is around 3 years.
The only thing that can be done is to divorce profit-making sports from universities. Go back to the intramural paradigm. Or, make appropriate sports minor leagues to the professional ranks and let the pros finance them. Any other solution is contrary to the mission of any institution of higher learning. Paying athletes (beyond scholarships and room/board) is ridiculous. How the hell do you reconcile that to non-athlete students. I love my Ducks, but it's out of control!
Easy peasy! Nancy Reagan figured it out years ago. "Just say no" when it comes to unionization. Just say NO! Who says you have to take the meeting? Go Ducks WTD
I feel as though I've looked at this topic through too many lenses already, and though I'm destined to spend more time thinking about it, my conclusion so far is: There is No Right Answer.
When I was at UofO I got the chance to look at the athletic department income statement. One sport makes money when factoring in the full operational cost: Football. Basketball does not, nor does T&F. We didn't have baseball then, but I doubt it does either. I work in the finance realm nowadays, and look at things as cash-producing or cash-bleeding rather than by profits, and even football is cash-bleeding (based on operations alone, there is no way in hell they could have paid for the recent facility upgrades, donor money made that happen).
The issue is more muddled than the U.S. tax code. One part of me says that a high school football player even for a major high school team (Texas drew 55,000 people to its big division state title game!) isn't an employee, so why is a college player? Well, while I may want to say "no reason" the reality is that they sign a form of labor agreement-- a National Letter of Intent and financial aid package.
Title IX certainly comes into play. Does that mean that DAT should only make as much as the second string women's lacrosse player? If so, that's basically how the system works now. They all get tuition, room, board, medical, and academic assistance paid for. If the system were a free market, DAT would make somewhere around 500k/yr plus endorsements, while the 2nd string lacrosse player wouldn't get anything because the team would be discontinued because it has no prospects of profitability. This is why you can't run it like a business. To keep it football centric, how much would you suppose Hamani Stevens or Stetzon Bair or Rahim Cassell or BJ Kelley are worth? If a market dictated it, I would guess it's less than $50,000/year, which is roughly what they're getting now. The bulk of athletes -- even in the revenue generating programs -- aren't getting "screwed." In reality, only about 10-20% of them are getting "screwed." (Can we all take a moment and laugh at the irony that it's Northwestern filing for a union, given that they can't fund their own operations?)
The purpose of this post is to portray to you that there is no right answer. I don't think schools should be profiting of players' likeness because that belongs to the individual, and I think there needs to be bigger constraints on doing public appearances/phoneathons/signing autographs, but overall the system benefits more people than it takes from. But I do think they need a seat at the table, even if that means getting a big issued of reality.
Imagine the impact of unionized players when Northwestern forks over hundreds of thousands of dollars to play the Little Sisters of the Poor or some other beginning of the year patsy. Will there be a strike for a fair share? Or a work slowdown (jogging instead of sprinting)? How will officials handle nails in tires in the parking lot or spitting on those who cross the union line?
@DrakeMallard Those are issues that absolutely have to be addressed, union or no union. There's still time for sanity and compromise in this deal.
@SonomaDuckI think the whole conversation (as it relates to compensation, but there are many other points the Northwestern athletes put on the table) really is only applicable to football. Baseball, basketball, hockey, track and field, et al, all have minor league system avenues. You still see players choose to go to colleges over the alternatives, so being a student-athlete obviously has some value even without a paycheck. Maybe the biggest "fix" is establishing minor league football.
@SonomaDuckFans like the system the way it is now, but players at Northwestern are forming a union, and two players at Arizona joined the Ed O'Bannon suit. Change is coming. A reasonable discussion has to occur around the alternatives.
@SJWIt is out of control, and messy. I'm not really advocating for paying players or players organizing, I'm just saying they have the leverage to do so and this issue is apt to come to a head in the next two years.
@hoboduckExcept, the players already have, and the Ed O'Bannon case is being litigated. There's no saying no, much as we'd like to.
@atvintonThat's a thoughtful post, and I agree, there's no right answer. I'd love to return college football to its romantic image of the amateur athlete playing for the glory of his school but it's a big-money game now with a lot at stake.
Really appreciate this contribution to the discussion. It's as thoughtful and well-reasoned a Livefyre post as I have ever read, from the perspective of a fan with an informed view of finance and college sports. Thanks for posting it.
@sozeduckI'm not saying it will be good for college football, just that the players have the leverage to make it happen. Strikes, union-busting tactics and slowdowns are all part of the possible fallout, certainly. It's clear also the game wouldn't have the same success if the players didn't represent colleges. The history, tradition, color and pageantry of college football is a big part of its appeal. A minor league without the campus setting wouldn't be a tenth as popular.
@atvinton@SonomaDuckIt may come to that, but a single A football team in Eugene wouldn't have nearly the same appeal as the Oregon Ducks of Dan Fouts, Chris Miller, Joey Harrington and Marcus Mariota. It's the spirit, tradition and history that makes college football such an entertaining game. But I agree with you that the pressures that are building may lead to that unfortunate solution.
@Dale Newton Thanks for providing a medium where you don't get badgered for thoughtful posts!
Because the greed factor is overwhelming these days, I suspect it will happen. Instead of stars, the players will have $$$ to represent their worth. The best players will go to the highest bidders. If it happens, the student athletes should have to pay their own way through school and be liable to being penalized, or released, for not playing up to prearranged standards. If they want it to be treated like a business, it has to be run like a business.
@Dale Newton @sozeduck Paying college FB and BB players is such a messy quagmire. It undermines the original and once innocent college sports appeal of team spirit and love of the game 'in addition to' learning and earning a degree.
Is Marcus Mariota a university employee? With a union, would he and his teammates become paid employees? Would only the high revenue sports players be paid as employees? What about walk-ons? Would an across-the-board spending money stipend work better for all official student athletes? An education is a compensation. For the better athletes, the chance to showcase their talents toward post-college pro sports and sports-related opportunities is another special benefit.
The fact that I can barely organize my thoughts on this issue is that it's so messy, to me anyway. And the fanatics' (like me) sports entertainment addiction, along with those that push that addiction, is a core part of it.
@SonomaDuck Haha, though that may sound reasonable, if any high school 4* player tried to compete in the frosty north, they'd never see the field. Those are grown men. Most players wouldn't even make arena league teams.
College football is the only setup where these kids can get as much invested into them. It's hard to imagine a minor league system giving 18 year olds professional-level strength and conditioning, nutrition, and coaching assistance, plus an education. But if they want a paycheck, there should be an alternative. I agree with Dale below that these teams would have to compete with CFB, and that's basically why it hasn't happened yet.
@duckifiedThat's the danger, certainly. The reason I brought it up again is because the Northwestern players are taking a step that could force colleges, players, the NCAA and fans to make some hard, messy choices.
@rgyle@Dale Newton@sozeduckIt is indeed messy, and I don't want the business model of college sports to change so radically that it destroys tradition, history, color and pageantry, all the emotion that makes college football the best game in America. The business side of it can be ugly and complicated by contrast.
Hopefully some kind of compromise can be reached along the lines of true-cost-of-attendance, a players' council on safety and graduation rates, stipends, etc.