Yet More on the NCAA Cartel

Nocera continues his great work:

In the U.S.C. case, the N.C.A.A. made a series of allegations about Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, the most memorable of which was that his parents had lived rent-free in a house owned — heaven forbid! — by one of two would-be agents. The N.C.A.A. views any transaction between a college athlete and an agent as a violation of its amateurism rules.

Let’s stop here for a second to note that this rule (like the rule that players cannot in any way be compensated by third parties, but perhaps even worse) is especially indefensible. Why on earth should it be illegal for players to have someone to look out for their interests? One suspects, in part, because agents may be particularly likely to explain that, say, it doesn’t make any sense that universities can shove money in their pockets from selling products with your number or likeness with both hands, but if a nickel somehow ends up in your pocket it’s a horrible scandal and you won’t be allowed to play.

The university official the N.C.A.A. singled out was Todd McNair, 47, an African-American assistant football coach. One of the would-be agents, Lloyd Lake, who has a history of prior arrests, claimed that he had told McNair about the relationship during an angry two-and-a-half minute phone call late on the night of Jan. 6, 2006. McNair, for his part, said that he had no recollection of ever meeting Lake, much less having an angry phone call with him. There was no evidence to corroborate Lake’s claim.

Not that that mattered. The N.C.A.A.’s Committee on Infractions concluded that Lake was believable, McNair was not, and that the coach was guilty of “unethical conduct.” Thus labeled, McNair’s coaching career was effectively destroyed.

[...]

The evidence is simply beyond the pale. To find McNair guilty of unethical conduct, the enforcement staff had to put words into Lake’s mouth that he never uttered. It botched its questioning of McNair — and then, realizing its mistake, chose not to re-interview him. One enforcement official sent a back-channel e-mail describing McNair as “a lying, morally bankrupt criminal.” And that’s just for starters.

Because he is a public figure, McNair had to show that the N.C.A.A. had acted with “actual malice” — that is, it wrote things in the full knowledge that they were false. As any journalist knows, it is very difficult for a public figure to sue for defamation — precisely because actual malice is so hard to prove. At one point during the hearing, the judge told the N.C.A.A.’s lawyer that he well understood why the organization would want to keep evidence away from the public; if he were the N.C.A.A., he would want to keep it from the public, too.

That an organization dedicated to the enforcement of indefensibly exploitative rules would also enforce these rules in an arbitrary and capricious manner is…not surprising.

80 comments on this post.
  1. bradP:

    Let’s stop here for a second to note that this rule (like the rule that players cannot in any way be compensated by third parties, but perhaps even worse) is especially indefensible. Why on earth should it be illegal for players to have someone to look out for their interests? One suspects, in part, because agents may be particularly likely to explain that, say, it doesn’t make any sense that universities can shove money in their pockets from selling products with your number or likeness with both hands, but if a nickel somehow ends up in your pocket it’s a horrible scandal and you won’t be allowed to play.

    I’m sure it also has to do with the 17 year-old kids with horrible support structures with cash getting thrown at them.

    Not defending the NCAA, but some organization will exist with rules concerning agent contact.

  2. thusbloggedanderson:

    Allow me to trot out my pet solution. Abolish the NCAA. Abolish student football. Convert the college teams into minor-league football (same mascots, same stadiums), with the colleges as owners of the teams. Players who want to go to college later are welcome to do so, but on the team, they’re paid workers – figure out some % of revenue that has to go to the team.

  3. bradP:

    What do you think of the eligibility restrictions? Can we have a 40 year old Tim Tebow quarterbacking the Gators for the length of his career?

  4. JKTHs:

    Plus, just football? Not basketball?

  5. rea:

    Teenage baseball pitcher Andy Oliver is drafted by the Minnesota Twins, but also has a scholarship offer from OSU. He gets a lawyer to help him talk to the Twins, but eventually doesn’t sign, and goes to college. About to play in the college world series, he finds himself suddenly suspended, for having had a lawyer to help him in contract negotiations, even though the negotiations themselves of course violated no rule.

    Oliver sues, and wins–but before entry of judgment, the NCAA pays him $750,000 to dismiss the action, so that there is no judgment invalidating its anti-agent rule.

    (No happy ending for Oliver, though–yesterday he got traded to the Pirates)

  6. Jeff R.:

    In Vonnegut’s first novel Player Piano (published in 1952), there’s a sub-plot where a brilliant engineering student is offered $35,000 a year to play for Cornell’s football team. When the students asks if they will give him time off to go to class and to study, the coach answers:

    “Well — there’s some pretty stiff rulings about that. You can’t play college football, and go to school. They tried that once, and you know what a silly mess that was.”

  7. rea:

    Abolish the NCAA

    This reminds me of the people whose reaction to the possibility of DC statehood was to call for abolition of the US Senate.

    Not a practical response to a concrete problem.

  8. Ron E.:

    The solution to all NCAA issues is that any university that takes public money should not be allowed to run what is in effect a minor league sports franchise.

  9. anonymous:

    Sure, why not?

  10. Brien Jackson:

    This isn’t particularly hard to understand at all. The NCAA won’t let players, especially football players, talk to agents because the agents would explain to them that being a 3rd or 4th round draft pick after your third college year isn’t a bad proposition at all, and far more talented under classmen would leave college early. The current system that allows the players to talk only to their own coaches (who, of course, are not the slightest bit sleazy and, unlike agents who are employed by the player only have the kid’s best interests at heart) and an NFL Draft survey process, both of which systematically mislead players into staying in college ball longer.

  11. Brien Jackson:

    Why not?

  12. Brien Jackson:

    Yeah, that makes no sense at all.

  13. rea:

    If your only solution is something that isn’t going to happen (amend the Constitution to reapportion the Senate; abolish college football), then you’re not really proposing a solution, are you?

  14. Ed O'Bannon:

    I’m sure it also has to do with the 17 year-old kids with horrible support structures with cash getting thrown at them.

    Dude, it sounds like your worst fucking nightmare only needs the substitution of “cash” for “badge” in the famous Eddie Murphy scene from 48 Hours. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvzIRuIg288

  15. bradP:

    Nothing, other than I don’t think minor league football will ever be a profitable venture.

  16. Brien Jackson:

    The only thing you’d need to really do would be to make the NCAA toxic or just too much of a headache for the schools. The second they realize that they actually can sell the basktball tournament the same well they sell football, the NCAA dies it’s own natural death.

  17. bradP:

    Are you saying I’m afraid of black kids with money?

  18. Brien Jackson:

    Well, either that or you’re just a total mook.

  19. NonyNony:

    The answer to that will be that the state will just stop funding universities.

    The reason why the state of Ohio continues to fund state universities at all is because of Ohio State alumni and the power they wield in the state house. Get rid of OSU football and I doubt the goodwill towards Ohio State continues.

    I suspect that is true for a LOT of state universities these days. The value is seen in the “brand” and not in the education. And if the “brand” isn’t associated with football/basketball (depending on the state) then the “brand” isn’t worth as much.

    (I say this as someone who was once a big proponent of the exact type of plan that “thusbloggedanderson” lays out above but who has actually had enough exposure to state representatives now to know exactly what they mean when they claim to value “education”.)

  20. bradP:

    Sports agents can be some shady people with the ability to throw a lot of money and other resources at kids that are often in very vulnerable situations.

  21. Murc:

    I’m sure it also has to do with the 17 year-old kids with horrible support structures with cash getting thrown at them.

    This is a legitimate concern, but if the NCAA actually cared about this they’d support the formation of a robust and independent players association.

    In fact, if I recall correctly, the NFL Players Association specifically has people who help rookies deal with the amount of money they are making, as many come from modest means and don’t quite know how to deal with seven or eight figure incomes, and maybe someone should be on-hand to explain to them they don’t need to buy three houses with hefty mortgages and that this isn’t a lifetime career, so they can’t spend everything they make every year.

  22. Murc:

    … it’s profitable now! The NCAA is crazy profitable, and it is, in fact, minor-league football.

  23. Murc:

    If your only solution is something that isn’t going to happen

    Things that aren’t possible tend to become possible because people spend decades smashing their faces against an immovable object until it moves.

    Just about the entire history of social progress in this country involves literally generations of people trying futilely to move a needle until finally the last generations, scrambling over the corpses of its predecessors, gets it to move.

    This is football, of course, not anything earth-shaking. But still.

  24. Jonas:

    The NCAA should enforce rules to ensure that poor kids remain poor.

  25. mpowell:

    This has been their strategy for years. It’s actually pretty damn smart, given their ends.

  26. John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, KCVO, DL:

    Need I say more?

  27. mpowell:

    The NCAA has always bribed people into dropping cases when they lose. But, really, the NCAA is a criminal organization. If it ever catches up with them, they’re going to buried under a mountain of lawsuits.

  28. John:

    Do you think that perhaps the shadiness of the characters offering their services to college kids is enhanced by the fact that it has to be done off the books?

  29. John:

    Do you think that profitability would be able to survive a transition to professionalism?

  30. bradP:

    The NFLPA is likely where most of the solution resides. They need to immediately start pushing back against the NFLs age restrictions.

  31. bradP:

    I’m sure it is.

  32. Brien Jackson:

    Two obvious counterpoints:

    1. This more or less contradicts your entire glibertarian outlook on markets.

    2. If this is an actual concern, it ought to be easy enough to pass actual laws against agents exploiting college athletes. The NCAA prohibition on any agent contact clearly is not a rational response to this so-called problem.

  33. Brien Jackson:

    Meh, absent a professional minor league system, I highly doubt that NFL franchises are going to be drafting 18-20 year olds with any frequency in the near future.

  34. Brien Jackson:

    For the schools that are profitable I don’t see any reason to assume it wouldn’t.

  35. Chet Manly:

    But it’s only profitable now based on the collegiate association. Nobody would ever give a damn about some minor-league football team in Indiana it it wasn’t Notre Dame’s team.

  36. Brien Jackson:

    Plus, they aren’t really that beneficial to member schools. Get the justice department to hound them relentlessly, and the members will likely abandon them out of sheer convenience.

  37. bradP:

    Do you think that profitability would be able to survive a transition to professionalism?

    That’s what I’m wondering.

    There is no doubt the “amateurism” of college athletics is being exploited by the NCAA and member universities.

    But these players being students that won’t go on to professional football is a hefty part of the appeal, and also leads to far greater variations in play style, which is also a huge part of the appeal of college sports.

    I don’t think too many people are going to pay to see a bunch of guys in the mid-to-late 20s playing a second-rate pro-style football.

    There are a chunk of minor league baseball players that play for contracts with less compensation than the average BCS football player. Single A minor leaguers pull in around $10000 a month and usually have to take offseason jobs to make ends meet.

  38. Brien Jackson:

    More simply, I’m guessing that this is just a total non-starter so long as there’s massive public demand for college football. Which isn’t to say the system can’t be reformed, but decoupling the institutions from the games/revenue just isn’t going to happen so long as taxpayers/voters want college football and are willing to spend dollars on it.

  39. Brien Jackson:

    Most minor league players wouldn’t go on to big league careers either, so I don’t see the correlation. I also highly doubt that this appeals to any meaningful number of fans, but whatever.

  40. bradP:

    This more or less contradicts your entire glibertarian outlook on markets.

    The problem should be dealt with by private professional organizations.

    2. If this is an actual concern, it ought to be easy enough to pass actual laws against agents exploiting college athletes. The NCAA prohibition on any agent contact clearly is not a rational response to this so-called problem.

    This is true. My point is not that the NCAA isn’t corrupt and completely negligent of what it states its purpose to be.

    I’m just saying that if you abolish the NCAA, something is going to grow in its place and probably be very similar.

    And I will say that the NCAA has plenty of public privilege, and I wouldn’t take any complaint about government interference from them seriously. In short, if the government came in and cleaned house, I wouldn’t care.

  41. thusbloggedanderson:

    I don’t know enough about basketball to say (hell, probably not enough about football).

    Also, it’s exaggerating to say *abolish* the NCAA; someone has to supervise, oh, rowing, and lacrosse.

  42. bradP:

    Meh, absent a professional minor league system, I highly doubt that NFL franchises are going to be drafting 18-20 year olds with any frequency in the near future.

    This is probably true, but there are also only a handful of college players every year that merit pay above and beyond their current compensation.

  43. Brien Jackson:

    The problem should be dealt with by private professional organizations.

    Right, that’s exactly who should be legislating on the matter of a person’s right to legal representation and preventing labor exploitation.

    I’m just saying that if you abolish the NCAA, something is going to grow in its place and probably be very similar.

    But if this is true, why is there basically no such exploitation of clients by agents representing, say, minor league baseball players or “advising” amateurs as they negotiate signing bonuses with MLB franchises?

  44. bradP:

    Most minor league players wouldn’t go on to big league careers either, so I don’t see the correlation. I also highly doubt that this appeals to any meaningful number of fans, but whatever.

    I guess what I’m saying is the advent of minor league football isn’t going to improve the status of college athletes very much, if at all.

  45. Brien Jackson:

    Well sure, if you just completely ignore the way putting together a sports team actually works in the real world and pretend that a player’s value exists on a perfectly linear scale, anyway.

  46. Scott Lemieux:

    But if this is true, why is there basically no such exploitation of clients by agents representing, say, minor league baseball players or “advising” amateurs as they negotiate signing bonuses with MLB franchises?

    Right, this whole point is silly. Why are NCAA football players different than minor league baseball players, or major junior hockey players? There are laws that make fraudulent behavior illegal. Otherwise, if players are old enough to make shitloads of money for their universities (or enlist in the army), they’re old enough to negotiate their own legal representation.

  47. Joshua:

    Right, the states with the highest percentage of college grads are mostly in the Northeast, which lacks a college football powerhouse – and even in those states it’s only around 50%.

    What is the percentage of degreeholders in Alabama? 20%? Would anyone in that state give a damn about UA enough to fund it if the Tide didn’t exist?

    The sad truth is that, for many states, the universities really are a football team with a school attached (and, for others, that applies to high school as well).

  48. bradP:

    Right, that’s exactly who should be legislating on the matter of a person’s right to legal representation and preventing labor exploitation.

    Absolutely, if they can. In this situation, it hardly seems out of the question that they can.

    But if this is true, why is there basically no such exploitation of clients by agents representing, say, minor league baseball players or “advising” amateurs as they negotiate signing bonuses with MLB franchises?

    I’m not sure because I don’t know enough about MLB contracts, but I don’t believe there is a lot of wiggle room in negotiations for most minor league players, and where there is it is governed by the terms of the CBA.

  49. Scott Lemieux:

    Fortunately, Anderson aside nobody’s saying that you can’t require that people playing football be enrolled at universities, or even that their be a time limit for their playing time. They’re just saying that direct and third-party compensation should be permitted. So the whole argument is a massive non-sequitur.

  50. Brien Jackson:

    It’s kind of ironic that this is one area where glibertarian invisible hand fantasies actually does hold true. So of course the resident glibertarian totally doesn’t think it will work.

  51. Brien Jackson:

    Absolutely, if they can. In this situation, it hardly seems out of the question that they can.

    Well shit, I guess when you consider how warmly MLB owners embraced their employees’ rights to legal representation through agents, there’s really no argument against this, is there?

    I’m not sure because I don’t know enough about MLB contracts, but I don’t believe there is a lot of wiggle room in negotiations for most minor league players, and where there is it is governed by the terms of the CBA.

    I have no idea what you’re trying to say here, nor does it really make any sense as to why there isn’t more exploitation of minor league players. After all, NCAA players have even less “wiggle room” than they do.

  52. bradP:

    What do you mean linear scale?

    There is a huge discontinuity between those players who contribute to professional teams and those that contribute to minor league teams.

    The overwhelming majority of college athletes would translate into minor league players that will never make a good living out of the sport. They will see absolutely no improvement from going from an amateur university-based team to a minor league team. It would likely be much worse for them.

    There are a handful of players who will be good enough to cross that threshhold where they will earn a huge salary.

  53. bradP:

    Fortunately, Anderson aside nobody’s saying that you can’t require that people playing football be enrolled at universities, or even that their be a time limit for their playing time.

    Assume for a second that college sports actually did go by this:

    What happens to a Denard Robinson if he can’t cut it in the NFL? Assuming he would get paid according to his value to the Michigan football team while he plays for the Michigan football team, he would go from being paid millions to being cut out of the market by arbitrary age restrictions.

  54. bradP:

    It’s kind of ironic that this is one area where glibertarian invisible hand fantasies actually does hold true. So of course the resident glibertarian totally doesn’t think it will work.

    It has nothing to do with the invisible hand.

    Rebuilding the XFL out of college kids doesn’t help anyone.

  55. Murc:

    They will see absolutely no improvement from going from an amateur university-based team to a minor league team. It would likely be much worse for them.

    Explain how, because this isn’t obvious.

    The NFL needs a productive and robust minor-league system, because it can’t just recruit 18 year olds who maybe haven’t even finished growing right out of high school. The one they currently have is the NCAA, which is very popular and profitable, but which dicks over its players. Those players would almost certainly be better off in a league that actually compensated them equitably for their labor.

    Also, this

    amateur university-based team

    is only true in an extremely technical sense. Guys on NCAA are professional sports players, or the term has no meaning whatsoever. They work harder than I do, and with more dedication and discipline, that’s for damn sure. This pretense of ‘amateurism’ has to stop.

  56. Brien Jackson:

    No one is talking about that though, so, okay.

  57. Murc:

    I don’t think too many people are going to pay to see a bunch of guys in the mid-to-late 20s playing a second-rate pro-style football.

    … then this hypothetical minor league system wouldn’t recruit those guys. They would recruit young, just out of high school guys.

    What’s most likely is you would end up with a mix of young guys who are on their way up mixed with older guys who aren’t good enough for the pros. But those young guys will always be there, because part of the reason minor leagues exist is to groom people for the majors.

    There are a chunk of minor league baseball players that play for contracts with less compensation than the average BCS football player.

    … BCS football players don’t get paid.

    This is why you see them hawking their team jerseys and rings (items which are no doubt very valuable personally to them) for absurdly low prices. They don’t have any money.

  58. Brien Jackson:

    Minor league baseball teams, of course, are not making billions of dollars thanks to their players’ labor like college sports conferences are, so there’s no correlation to that aspect of their business models. Even in MiLB, though, organizational filler players still make at least the minor league minimum salary.

  59. Brien Jackson:

    I have no idea what concern you’re even trying to troll here.

  60. rea:

    why is there basically no such exploitation of clients by agents representing, say, minor league baseball players or “advising” amateurs as they negotiate signing bonuses with MLB franchises?
    Note my comment above on the Andy Oliver case, in which the NCAA took the position that an amateur lost his eligibility by employing a lawyer to negotiate a signing bonus (and then not signing)

  61. Brien Jackson:

    Oliver was the player the Blue Jays ratted out, right?

  62. Tybalt:

    “Rebuilding the XFL out of college kids doesn’t help anyone.”

    Except the players who will now be paid where they weren’t paid before. It seems to me that helps them enormously. But they, of course, don’t count.

  63. thusbloggedanderson:

    The teams would continue to be associated with the schools.

  64. thusbloggedanderson:

    My concern about “student-athletes” is based on the experience of seeing lots of them fraudulently passed through courses. (I used to be a T.A. in English, back in the day.)

    Moreover, no one expects minor-league baseball players to be enrolled full-time in school. Why should football players be different?

  65. Tybalt:

    Brien: That was James Paxton, which was an even scummier situation than Oliver’s was – everyone conspired to come down on Paxton like a ton of bricks, including his university (and his coach and his AD), the NCAA and apparently (but unconfirmed yet) the Jays who he’d been negotiating with. Paxton was threatened with sanctions and punishment if he even told his lawyer about the agreement he was being pressured to sign. He was even told that the UK AD was “looking out for his interests”.

  66. Brien Jackson:

    To be totally fair though, minor league baseball is something of an antiquity (in that it was entrenched before the NCAA and big time college athletics came about), and MLB is actually doing everything they can to push as much talent out of the minors and into college ball as they can.

  67. Brien Jackson:

    Ah, that’s right. Thanks. But yeah, don’t tell Brad that the professional leagues can’t be trusted to look out for the rights of players!

  68. Sherm:

    I think Oliver got ratted out by his own adviser.

  69. Scott Lemieux:

    right. The Senate is never going to be abolished because Article V means that numerous states would have to care enough about diluting their own representation to pass an amendment. On the other hand, it’s far from obvious that the NCAA has a huge benefit for the most powerful member schools.

  70. Eli Rabett:

    oooo another fan of homeowner associations.

  71. Brien Jackson:

    I’d say that Notre Dame’s television contract pretty clearly proves that it is, in fact, most definitely not in the interest of the big programs.

  72. David Nieporent:

    In response to the comment about professional organizations, (I only know about baseball), the MLBPA certifies agents, and with respect to people who are negotiating major league contracts (which does not necessarily include amateurs), the teams are only permitted to deal with certified agents.

    The certification process itself is trivial; it’s not really meant to screen people in, but rather to screen them out. (That is, almost anyone can get certified initially — but if they do something which causes concern, they can be decertified.)

  73. David Nieporent:

    In response to Murc “Those players would almost certainly be better off in a league that actually compensated them equitably for their labor” and Brien “Even in MiLB, though, organizational filler players still make at least the minor league minimum salary,” minor league baseball players make virtually nothing. At the lower levels, where they typically start, they may make under $1000 per month (for approx. 5 months), plus meal money, and they’re usually put up for free housing with host families. (It’s not really clear that their financial deal is that much better than college athletes on full scholarships.) Of course, the elite amateur prospects may get big signing bonuses first.

  74. David Nieporent:

    There’s a shifted decimal point there; YM $1,000, not $10,000. But in fact it’s less for single-A players.

    They don’t “usually” have to take in offseason jobs; they always have to, unless they play winter ball.

  75. Brien Jackson:

    Yes, minor league players make a meager salary, but as I also said the pertinent difference here is that, unlike college football/basketball, minor league baseball is not itself a multi-billion dollar industry.

  76. cpinva:

    which kind of destroys the whole “logic” of your argument.

    I’m sure it is.

    if a kid with an IQ of 170, on a full scholarship to harvard, majoring in oh, say, computer science, hired an attorney to sift through job offers for him, while still a student, that would be ok with the NCAA. a kid playing football/basketball/baseball, on a full scholarship, does the same thing, and suddenly, the NCAA gets its panties (very fashionable panties though) in a wad.

    do you see what they did there?

  77. Murc:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t minor league baseball pull in a pittance compared to minor league football and basketball?

    (By which I mean the NCAA, as they operate as a de facto minor league.)

  78. wengler:

    In Mexico, several of their top flight teams are named after the universities where they started. This is something that has already happened elsewhere and worked.

  79. rea:

    minor league players make a meager salary

    Signing bonuses, though, particularly where the palyer has college eligibility left.

  80. djangermats:

    If my choices were

    Room, board, 1000 a month

    or

    Room, board, nothing

    I’d take option 1 personally

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