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APU

[ 47 ] September 25, 2013 |

In Salon today, some very welcome news from the world of College Football:

During nationally televised college football games on Saturday, 28 total players wore the slogan “APU” — short for “All Players United” – on their wrist tape or elsewhere on their bodies. Players from the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Northwestern took part.

“I think it’s the first time the players have shown a sign of unity in terms of NCAA reform on TV … during games,” said former linebacker Ramogi Huma, the founder of the National College Players Association. Huma told Salon that reaction to the protest has “all been positive,” spurring more players to join. He said players intend to keep wearing the APU slogan on the field “until NCAA sports reform is achieved in a way that satisfies the players,” and that the action “will get bigger and bigger” before the regular football season concludes.

There are plenty of very good reasons for pessimism about the future of such a movement, but if Paul’s speculation that we may be at or approaching something of a tipping point here, this could be interesting. They’re targeting the lowest hanging fruit, too: I would hope that even NCAA dead-enders like Chait would recognize there’s something pretty damn wrong with allowing schools to drop scholarships and the medical care they come with for players injured by the game, which is cartoonishly evil even by the standards of the NCAA.

Comments (47)

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  1. brad says:

    Oh, plz, plz, plz, plz let them try to unionize.

    Just imagine.

    • Dilan Esper says:

      Oh yeah. That’s actually the right question for Chait and any other liberals who defend the NCAA, too. We know they are attached to this amateur ideal and this purist vision of college football, but if 50 percent of the Division 1-A football players voted to certify a union, would the pro-NCAA liberals oppose recognition of it?

    • fledermaus says:

      I’d love to see at least one bowl game where the players refuse to play. That’ll get the NCAA’s attention when they are hit in the pocketbook.

  2. wengler says:

    Cue the NCAA forcing its television partners to squelch any speech related to ‘APU’.

  3. EliHawk says:

    I’m pretty sure Chait agrees on those reforms and finds all the talk of paying players and repeated NCAA-bashing a distraction from actually getting them accomplished, like he says in the article you link to while calling him an “NCAA dead-ender.”

    • brad says:

      When even Matt Yglesias thinks you’re being unfair to labor…

      • Dilan Esper says:

        I think Matt Yglesias is misunderstood here (because I think I have a similar viewpoint on labor as he does).

        The basic contours of it are that I fully support the procedural rights of workers to form a union. Indeed, it should be easier to form unions– no right to work laws, card check should be the law of the land, there should be far greater penalties for union busting and they should be enforced, etc.

        But that doesn’t mean that I think that every substantive outcome that unions work for is good. I don’t know enough about education policy but I certainly suspect that not everything teacher’s unions say about it is correct. And I do know about unions in some other industries– Hollywood, journalism, the post office, the auto industry– that have taken some completely wrongheaded positions.

        Indeed, I think unions are SUPPOSED to take positions that I might consider wrongheaded. They have a fiduciary duty to look out for current union members. That means they have an obligation to protect employees who might get fired, which means they have a fiduciary obligation to advocate for seniority systems as opposed to merit systems. And it also means they have a fiduciary obligation to protect workers from competition from new hires, which can make it hard for outsiders to get in. They have a fiduciary duty to make working conditions as good as possible. That means union work rules that I might consider excessive. They have a fiduciary duty to advocate for higher compensation. And that can mean excessive health care and pension programs.

        That’s what they are supposed to do. Because they are like lawyers. They are supposed to zealously advocate the interests of their clients, not to take the broader public policy questions into account.

        That’s what I want them doing.

        So I am pro-union. But when specific things that unions say or do are discussed, I often find myself in opposition to the union’s position. Not because I hate unions. But because I don’t think it’s their job to be right about public policy questions. It’s their job to maximize the benefit to their members, public policy be damned. And that’s fine. We have other organizations to keep them in check and get the public policy right.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          But that doesn’t mean that I think that every substantive outcome that unions work for is good.

          This is the Yglesias line for sure though the key part is implicit, i.e., there’s someone who argues otherwise.

          I think that’s a big nothingburger. After all, me and my mates complain about our own union positions all the time (usually that they are too timid).

          The real problem is bringing this up as if it were a thing during labor disputes (as MY has done which you aren’t doing here) or harping on this line incessently or, more specifically, basically using this as a cover for always disagreeing with all union (and most pro-labor) ends. For public unions, MY has come pretty close, as I recall, to arguing that pretty much all their ends are opposition worthy.

          • Brien Jackson says:

            I don’t know that that’s really quite accurate, but I do know that I wouldn’t want to plant my pro-union ends flag on the mountain of contemporary professional athletes’ unions.

        • GoDeep says:

          +1

          So. Spot. On.

    • Retief says:

      THis is right. Chait explicitly calls in that linked article for schools to “guarantee five years of free-ride tuition to every scholarship athlete who maintains a clean record”. When I read that a while ago I left thinking there was less distance between his take and the folks here than I had expected.

      • brad says:

        You mean aside from the key issues of players having a right to profit off their images and labor?

      • Royko says:

        It seems as though Chait thinks schools should be more generous in what they allow players to get, but he still doesn’t believe that players should have any say in the negotiations. He wants a kinder, gentler exploitative system.

        There’s just no way to fix the system as long as A) there is this much revenue being generated and B) players aren’t given the freedom to negotiate for their compensation.

        • James E. Powell says:

          You see, right there, in the language, ideas are embedded that would not be acceptable in any other context.

          Schools that prohibit the athletes from making money off their work and names are not being generous when they allow some income. At all times they are are exploiting the athletes in order to make money for themselves.

      • djw says:

        Not seeing it. Essentially, he wants to see the fundamental power and bargaining arrangement between players and Universities unchanged, and he wants the NCAA to continue to function as an enabling and enforcing cartel for the purposes of preserving that power relationship. He suggests they use that extraordinary amount of power in a slightly kinder/gentler/more PR-savvy way than they presently do, but he doesn’t want to see the players empowered in any meaningful way to enforce and entrench any such protections.

        Also, his proposed policy change on scholarships only partially addresses the medical coverage issue: if you have any injuries that linger or require care and attention beyond the end of one’s final scholarship year, you’re still out of luck.

        • Retief says:

          My impression was that Chait agreed with the principle that everybody making a boatload of money from college football except the players is wrong, especially with regards to the lowest hanging fruit you mentioned. Maybe I am misreading him. He can speak for himself.

          I happily agree with it and eliminating rules that prevent players from seeing any of the cash seems like a good step. I do wonder though how much the power relations you describe will really be changed by allowing direct and 3rd party payments and profiting from one’s name or image in the absence of a players union. Certainly being able to earn money is better than being prevented from earning money when one’s labor is generating a whole lot of revenue. But if we’re not assuming a players union, don’t the power dynamics of this market make it pretty ripe for exploitative practices even without the NCAA cap on benefits that can be given to players? Far be it from me to suggest that a long war ahead means we shouldn’t start the battle, but it would be nice to think there was a war plan. What comes after the NCAA’s amateurism requirement is defeated?

          • djw says:

            My impression was that Chait agreed with the principle that everybody making a boatload of money from college football except the players is wrong, especially with regards to the lowest hanging fruit you mentioned. Maybe I am misreading him. He can speak for himself.

            I happily agree with it and eliminating rules that prevent players from seeing any of the cash seems like a good step.

            Chait does not agree with you.

            • Retief says:

              OK. But it seems pretty clear that he would agree with “there’s something pretty damn wrong with allowing schools to drop scholarships and the medical care they come with for players injured by the game”

              Anyway I’m happy to see players organizing to oppose that sort of injustice. Tipping point-wise, I’m not sure there is much common cause to be found between people who hate the NCAA for it’s anti-labor cartel activities and people who hate the NCAA because it was too harsh on poor Penn State or because it should leave Johnny Football alooone.

              • Brien Jackson says:

                ” I’m not sure there is much common cause to be found between people who hate the NCAA for it’s anti-labor cartel activities and people who hate the NCAA because…it should leave Johnny Football alooone.”

                Not sure if concern troll or just dense.

              • djw says:

                OK. But it seems pretty clear that he would agree with “there’s something pretty damn wrong with allowing schools to drop scholarships and the medical care they come with for players injured by the game”

                But–rather importantly, I think–not wrong enough to empower players in such a way that they could actually prevent it, just wrong enough to encourage those with unaccountable power to wield it in a slightly less exploitative way–exactly the power structure that was able to take such scholarships away without any resistance.

                • Retief says:

                  You’re right; that is an important distinction. Does removing the boot of amateurism requirements from players necks thus empower them? Perhaps it is necessary-but-not-sufficient?

  4. Theliel says:

    I was watching ESPN Monday night before the game….pretty much the entire panel flat out asserted that the NCAA’s time was limited and that they’d be defunct before a few years were up.

    They were talking about the Penn State thing – and basically said the NCAA handed out sanctions in order to lend its self legitimacy but that it was unnecessary and hidebound institution that would be dead soon enough.

    The only argument was how soon it would die, not when.

    • TribalistMeathead says:

      “They were talking about the Penn State thing – and basically said the NCAA handed out sanctions in order to lend its self legitimacy but that it was unnecessary and hidebound institution that would be dead soon enough.”

      Well, more specifically, it handed out sanctions to prove it wasn’t supporting a “football first” culture. Which, of course, is bullshit, since it does more to ensure successful college coaches are treated as demigods than the rest of the college football world combined.

      It also handed out sanctions because, you know, the institution turned a blind eye to Sandusky’s serial molestation.

      • Royko says:

        Aaaaand they just reduced the sanctions.

        “Sure, we’re tough on programs that let coaches get away with anything — including rape. When people are paying attention, that is.”

        “Hey, it’s been a year of no rapes. I suppose maybe we were a little hard on them.”

        I would have banned football there entirely, at least for 4 years, if only to illustrate the point that some things are more important than “preserving the program”.

        • fledermaus says:

          But lord help the coach who pays for a parent’s cab fare and ticket so they can see their kid play. That’s a lifetime ban right there.

        • TribalistMeathead says:

          Well, they claimed that Penn State has made significant progress since the sanctions were handed out, to which one Deadspin commenter replied “What, no kids have been raped since then?”

          I would have banned football there entirely, at least for 4 years, if only to illustrate the point that some things are more important than “preserving the program”.

          As much as I wanted the death penalty, the trouble with the death penalty is that it really would’ve caused a lot of harm to Central PA’s already shaky economy. I was fine with the sanctions that were handed down, and don’t really give a shit if people think they went too far.

          • Brien Jackson says:

            I think the NCAA’s problem w/r/t Penn State was as much timing as anything else. If Emmert and his regime didn’t have a lot of Presidents and universities already pissy at him for the way he was handling the enforcement division than I doubt anyone would have cared, but as part of the ongoing issues they were probably more inclined to see it as overreach (which isn’t a terrible illogical view in its own right).

  5. Shakezula says:

    there’s something pretty damn wrong with allowing schools to drop scholarships and the medical care they come with for players injured by the game, which is cartoonishly evil even by the standards of the NCAA.

    Hey now, the athletes bring revenue to the university which is used to fund the scholarships and medical care. It would be unfair to ask universities to lower their expected ROI per athletic unit.

    /NCAA Apologist & Kitten Stabber.

    A very good friend’s kid brother lost his football scholarship his first semester thanks to a serious knee injury during a game. Their parents were able to cover his tuition afterwards, but and fortunately they had excellent health insurance so his leg is OK. But I am sure he is one of the very lucky ones.

    • NonyNony says:

      Honestly, if we’re not going to end the charade that football players are anything but employees “hired” to play football, then I want to go the other way. Guaranteed 5 year scholarships for the players that they retain independent of whether or not they play for the entire time they are eligible. Hell make it 6 years since for a number of semesters the education they receive is essentially worthless as they spend a full week at their job of playing football for the university and don’t get the full benefits of the classes that they’re taking.

      Either that or just end the charade and pay them a goddamn fair market value based on the revenue they bring into the school. I’d prefer the latter, but the former would at least be better than the status quo.

      • Joshua says:

        Fair value might be 5 years guaranteed. Players should just have a right to negotiate.

        Imagine if Harvard forced Bill Gates to stay in school and write computer programs that made them tens of millions of dollars a year.

      • GoDeep says:

        I’m curious why no one here connects the issue of paying football athletes to the issue of funding the broader athletic dept & university?

        At most campuses football is the only significant generator of revenue; it also drives broad university gifts in a way that basketball, say, can’t. While football programs are often unprofitable its primarily b/cs studies of them include non-cash cost like the cost of the scholarship.

        I certainly think the NCAA needs to be reined in, but I’m concerned that in unionizing one group of players (with disproportionate market power) we’re defunding large pools of other student activities, whether its the Woman’s Volleyball Team, Men’s Wrestling, or books for the library.

        I think its a very good idea to require colleges give athletes 4 yrs of health insurance & a scholarship that continues in the event that they’re permanently injured, but I worry that unionizing football players will negatively impact other students & athletes.

        • djw says:

          I’m curious why no one here connects the issue of paying football athletes to the issue of funding the broader athletic dept & university?

          It is rare indeed that football generates revenue that contributes to the academic side of the university, but even if it did, I wouldn’t care. I object rank exploitation by indefensible cartels even when the fruits of that exploitation fund worth things. If funding non-revenue college athletics is something we decide is worth doing (I’m pretty agnostic), we should go ahead and do it in the way we fund other worthwhile stuff at universities.

          • Brien Jackson says:

            It also really has nothing to do with the claim that players should at least get a portion of sales of their own image/be able to independently market themselves for third party payments.

  6. Breadbaker says:

    The advantage of collective bargaining on these issues is that it’s what the players care about, not what either the solons of the NCAA or the solons of various comment boards, that will be addressed.

  7. Wayne LaPierre says:

    Here’s another good article about the APU movement.

  8. mark says:

    Hang Up and Listen had an interesting interview this week with Huma. His group is pretty limited in its ambitions, but in a way that will play well.
    http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/hang_up_and_listen/2013/09/national_college_players_association_hang_up_and_listen_on_baseball_s_playoff.html

  9. Seitz says:

    Step 1: Do away with athletic scholarships in revenue sports in their current form, but allow anyone to pay college football players whatever the hell they want to pay them, whether it be for autographs, do-nothing jobs, or just flat out handing them envelopes full of cash. Completely eliminate the concept of “improper benefits”. This ensures that the athletes who are actually creating the demand are likely to be the ones reaping the benefits, and that those benefits are commensurate with their market value. The NCAA and networks are making a lot of money off of Johnny Manziel. No one is making a dime off of the third string offensive lineman at Kansas.

    Step 2: Take all everyone employed by the NCAA enforcement division and end their focus on recruiting and benefits violations. Instead, make every single one of them focus on academic violations. Players need to be certified as academically eligible every single week. A superstar recruit may be a gifted athlete, but if he can’t remain eligible, he doesn’t see the field. The money men aren’t going to want to pay a kid very much if he’s never actually playing.

    This would allow players to be paid commensurate with their actual market value, and would also ensure (to the extent possible) that they remain actual students. Presumably the least amount a student would get paid is the value of a current scholarship, call that the “league minimum”. And like any athlete making the league minimum, if the kid isn’t good enough, or gets hurt, he gets cut from the team and pays his own way if he wants to stay in school. If they want to be paid like professional athletes, then they’re subject to the same pitfalls of professional athletics.

    I don’t particularly like this system, but it’s the only way that kids will get paid what they’re worth (there’s not fairness in some shlub who never sniffs the field being paid the same as Manziel), and it emphasizes academics at the same time.

    • Royko says:

      I don’t disagree overall, but two things;

      No one is making a dime off of the third string offensive lineman at Kansas.

      That’s not exactly true. Sure, no one’s buying his jersey. But without a good (and deep) offensive line, Johnny Football’s likely to be a smear on the field. Can’t play football without linemen, so they contribute to generating revenue and deserve some compensation, even if it doesn’t appear that they individually are bring in $$$.

      And like any athlete making the league minimum, if the kid isn’t good enough, or gets hurt, he gets cut from the team and pays his own way if he wants to stay in school. If they want to be paid like professional athletes, then they’re subject to the same pitfalls of professional athletics.

      True, but part of negotiating for compensation would likely involve negotiating for disability insurance, signing bonuses, and/or other guarantees that the market might be willing to provide and that any sensible player/employee would be foolish not to ask for in such a risky profession.

      In short, the players probably be smart to use a union to collectively negotiate minimums salaries and disability and other player protections, pretty much what you see at the NFL level.

      • Seitz says:

        That’s not exactly true. Sure, no one’s buying his jersey. But without a good (and deep) offensive line, Johnny Football’s likely to be a smear on the field.

        Which is why I said Kansas and not A&M. Chances are that kid is at least a three star recruit. But a kid at a less glamorous football school is more than likely what sabr guys would refer to as “below replacement level”.

        • Cranky Observer says:

          If the top 16 teams only ever played each other, and had no fiction of being a collegiate activity, then sure. Of course, then what you would have is the 2nd coming of the AFL, and it would presumably eventually merge into the NFL as its predecessor did.

          OTOH, if colleges (and the nation) want to maintain a vestige, veneer, or figleaf of the university over the semi-pro development league then there have to be more teams than just Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, USC, and Notre Dame. In that case the 2nd-string lineman at Kansas is providing a necessary service to Sam Bradford at Oklahoma: giving him someone to beat up on. Without that service the illusion of collegiate activity can’t be maintained. Indirect, but real.

          • Seitz says:

            That may be so, but it’s not a service that he himself has any particular acumen for. You could line my dead grandmother up in that position and Alabama would still sell out the home game.

            With regard to providing a veneer of the university, that’s the idea behind actually focusing the enforcement on academics. Again, if you aren’t going to class and progressing, you don’t see the field. If you lose the veneer of the University, you lose pretty much all interest in the sport at that level. You can sell 100,000 tickets for a UCLA vs. USC game. You wouldn’t draw one tenth of that for the Pasadena Bruins vs. the South Central Trojans, and then all that money goes *poof* (for better or worse).

        • Cranky Observer says:

          Speaking of the Jayhawks, this gem from the NCAA enforcement office really makes a lot of sense:

          = = =
          http://www2.kusports.com/news/2013/sep/25/hard-earned-goal-quest-play-ku-soccers-salazar-tac/
          It was the summer of 2012, and Liana Salazar sat in Kansas University[sic] soccer coach Mark Francis’ office, finding it hard to look away from the future that awaited her.

          The Colombia native, recently finished with her freshman year at KU, had just learned that she would not be eligible to play in the upcoming season. The NCAA had denied Salazar an academic waiver — one that in previous cases had been granted to KU’s international students who, like Salazar, needed to focus solely on English language classes in their first semesters of college. Salazar’s path to ensured eligibility, without the need for another waiver, was written up on Francis’ chalkboard.

          Salazar needed to take 51 credit hours over the next 12 months — in essence two full years of classwork in one. = = =

  10. Robert Benmosche says:

    cartoonishly evil

    Someone called?

    The uproar on this blog over scholarships being revoked for injured players is intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that – sort of like what we did in the Deep South. And I think it is just as bad and just as wrong.

  11. [...] Dozens of NCAA football players wore clothing bearing the letters “APU” last weekend in protest of NCAA control over players’ safety and livelihoods. Will this escalate into more open player conflict with the NCAA? [H/T Lawyers, Guns & Money] [...]

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