The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Community News Network

May 7, 2014

Why college athletes need a union

WASHINGTON — Leticia Romero came to Kansas State University from the Canary Islands to play basketball. After Romero's freshman season - a successful one on the court, in which she averaged more than 14 points per game - the coach that recruited her was fired, and several assistant coaches chose to leave as well. As a consequence, Romero decided she wanted to transfer. The Kansas State athletic department had other ideas.

Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com has the full story, and it's yet another infuriating example of how college sports administrators control unpaid NCAA athletes. Kansas State has thus far refused to release Romero from her scholarship, which means she can't receive financial aid from any other Division I institution for at least a year. The Kansas State athletic department has mostly refused to explain itself, on account of "student-privacy concerns." That excuse would make more sense if someone had told Romero why the university is blocking her release. The player says she hasn't gotten any explanation at all.

In the months since Northwestern football players filed a petition to unionize, we've heard a single unrelenting message from the guardians of the NCAA's status quo: We are absolutely 100 percent devoted to the best interests of our student-athletes. "We have great protocols in place and we haven't been forced to do that by any third party," explained Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, who couldn't be more anti-union if he were the CEO of Walmart.

"If our athletes get hurt, we pay all their medical bills. If they want to come back and graduate, we pay for them to come back and graduate. We do everything that they say they wanted," said University of Texas athletic director Steve Patterson last month.

Coaches and athletic directors like Fitzgerald and Patterson do take care of their unpaid undergrad laborers - except when they don't. Even if you believe (which I do not) that most college athletes get a fair deal, there are those like Romero who get railroaded and have no recourse. In the absence of any official third party to negotiate on Romero's behalf, it's left to journalists and broadcasters like ESPN's Jay Bilas to highlight the injustice. Indeed, a vigorous public shaming is typically the only way to get schools to back down from these unethical transfer blockades.

The trouble is that most of the NCAA's defenders have lost the capacity to feel shame. In response to the outrage over Kansas State's handling of Romero's transfer request, the school's athletic director wrote on Twitter, "on RARE occasions that we have denied a student-athlete transfer release, it has been because of concerns about outside tampering, undue influence by third parties or procedures not being followed in an honest and forthright manner." The implication here - one confirmed by Voepel's reporting - is that the school believes Romero's former coaches are trying to lure her away from Manhattan, Kansas. Romero denies this, but who cares if it's true? Kansas State fired its head coach, and now it's trying to hold one of the players that coach recruited against her will. Given the circumstances, it's obscene that it's the school insinuating that someone else isn't behaving "in an honest and forthright manner."

This is the skewed moral universe that the NCAA has created and that its member institutions continue to prop up. There's now a debate over whether schools should pay the "full cost of attendance" for their athletes - the expenses that aren't covered by a scholarship. Those expenses average around $3,500 per athlete per year, with the cost differing by school. Schools could make this small concession, considering it a tiny price to pay given the estimates of the fair market value of a college football player. Instead, they're whining about how this is going to drive them out of business. Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard told the Des Moines Register it will cost $750,000 annually to pay for the students' cost of attendance, and "we'll have to pass those costs on to our fans," in part by raising ticket prices. "It's another financial hurdle that we have to deal with," Pollard said.

Pollard didn't talk about financial hurdles in 2012, when Iowa State opened a $20.6 million football complex. He also hasn't groused about all the scrimping and saving the school will need to do to pay his own $900,000 salary. If, like Iowa State's players, Pollard took home $0 per year, then the university would have more than enough to give every Cyclone athlete a free education. What say you, Mr. Athletic Director?

While we await his reply, consider the case of Boise State basketball player Joey Nebeker. Well, Nebeker used to play for Boise State, until his coach told him he just wasn't good enough to warrant a scholarship. The NCAA's defenders argue that athletes get an amazing deal: a free education that puts you on track for a great career. The truth is that your coach can pull your scholarship after a single year, for any reason - that free education is free only so long as you're nailing your jump shot.

This happens all the time: Coaches send old, not-so-useful players packing to make way for the new recruits. What's rare is for a jilted player like Nebeker to talk about it publicly. After all, what's to be gained by complaining? There's no chance you're going to get the decision overturned, and you won't help your chances of getting a scholarship elsewhere if you act like a crybaby.

Keep your head down. Don't make the coaches mad. Be thankful for what you have. That's how the NCAA wants college athletes to think. But public opinion is shifting, and players at Northwestern and elsewhere are starting to speak up. The potential for cost-of-attendance payments, the advent of legitimate four-year scholarships at certain schools, the decree that athletes can now have unlimited food - these changes were spurred by widespread outrage over how the NCAA exploits the young men and women who make college sports such a lucrative enterprise. But the fundamental unfairness of college sports won't change until athletes like Leticia Romero and Joey Nebeker have a voice. This is why college athletes need a third party to represent them: Because the people in charge don't want to hear what they have to say, and at this point no one can compel them to listen.

      

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • sleepchart.jpg America’s sleep-deprived cities

    Americans might run on sleep, but those living in the country's largest cities don't appear to run on much.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Who should pay for your kids ACT?

    Thirteen states paid for 11th-grade students in all public high schools to take the ACT college admission test this year, with several more planning to join them in 2015.

    August 20, 2014

  • Pets.jpg Why do people look like their pets?

    As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don't usually want to look like a dog.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • Can 6 seconds launch a career? A generation of Vine stars sure hopes so.

    A year ago, Shawn Mendes filmed himself singing a tentative acoustic cover of the Justin Bieber song "As Long as You Love Me" and put the results on Vine. He wasn't expecting much response. "I didn't really want anything to happen; I just kind of wanted to see what people would think," says Mendes, 16. "I posted that first Vine and woke up the next morning with 10,000 followers. That was pretty cool."

    August 14, 2014

  • Freshman.jpg 8 crucial tips for college freshmen

    With school starting back up around the country, no one has a bigger deer-in-the-headlights look than college freshmen.

    August 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • A night in Ferguson

    For the past week in Ferguson, reporters have been using the McDonald's a few blocks from the scene of Michael Brown's shooting as a staging area. Demonstrations have blown up each night nearby.

    August 14, 2014

E-edition
AP Video
Raw: Grief After Deadly Airstrikes in Gaza Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended Kathy Griffin Challenges Minaj to 'a Booty Off' Johnson: Six Arrests, No Tear Gas in Ferguson Raw: Rescue, Relief Efforts at Japan Landslide Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream Raw: Woman Escorted From Ferguson Protests California Drought Stings Honeybees, Beekeepers Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended Holder Hopes to Bring Calm to Ferguson US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed Manfred, Torre and MLB Take Ice Bucket Challenge Bank of America Reaches Record $17B Settlement Holder Reassures Ferguson Community With Visit GlobalPost CEO Remembers Foley As a Brave Man
NDN Video
Joel McHale Interviews Chelsea Goliath Grouper eats shark in one bite US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed Reggie Jackson's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Sicilian hilltop homes on sale for one euro Are Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon Breaking Up? Motorcyclist Sticks Landing This 'Breaking Bad' Reunion is the Most Hilarious Thing You'll See All Day! President Obama talks about who James Foley was Nicki Minaj Unleashes Her 'Anaconda' On the World Watch Helicopter Perform Aerial Ballet Can Buckeyes fill Miller's void? Victoria's Secret Models Prove They're in Fighting Shape How Brian Hoyer Stacks Up With Johnny Manziel Taylor Swift Reveals New Album 1989 is Full-On Pop Crews rescue elderly woman trapped inside flooded minivan Man Poses for New Mugshot Photo Wearing Shirt with Old Mugshot Photo On It Disquieting times for Malaysia's 'fish listeners' Caught On Camera: Johnny Manziel Obscene Gesture Rita Ora Embraces the Ice Bucket Challenge
Must Read