“The question is not should we be paid for our non-game-related [names, images and likenesses], it’s how should we be paid,” former Stanford football player Rollins Stallworth, who also serves as chair of the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, told the commissioners of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics during a meeting Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Most agree the likelihood of schools providing compensation to players above the full cost of attendance is not very likely, given concerns over amateurism, and, frankly, an unwillingness to split the multi-billion dollar intercollegiate athletics revenue pie. But many question the persistent restrictions around allowing third-parties to pay players for using their names, images and likenesses off the field, a question proceedings in the O’Bannon case continue to raise.
Stallworth told the panel, “The current policies adversely affect the student side of being a student-athlete.”
“The time demands on current student-athletes, it’s undeniable, in terms of our practices, our games, our workouts, our training sessions, our classes, office hours, needless to say, there’s minimal time to take advantage of all that our institutions can provide us,” he said.
Student-athletes are often holed away in an entirely different area of campus than their counterparts. At many institutions, most of their classes are housed in or near the athletics department, they have their own academic advisers. They don’t have the time or opportunity to work to earn any additional money, as other students might. Athletes room together, they eat together. They’re often isolated from the rest of campus and discouraged from taking part in other campus activities — especially protests. It is entirely clear they are there for one reason, and that reason has very little to do with the educational experience of those student-athletes.
“As student-athletes, and as students first, we should be treated as students. Our educational opportunities and what we come to play our sport for at the collegiate level — to gain our educational opportunities — should be we have the same rights and opportunities as the regular students on our campus,” Stallworth told the commission.
“Personally, in my Stanford career, I have been deterred and steered away from my own business ventures or start-up opportunities based on these NCAA policies,” he said, adding he has also “heard through discussions that student-athletes have expressed that they’ve tried to pursue being a teacher assistant in one of their favorite courses or providing tutoring sessions in their local community, and these current policies have deterred them from that.”
“I think that goes against the NCAA’s point of increasing the educational opportunities of their student-athletes,” he said.
The real problem, perhaps is a conflict of interests between the student-athletes and those making decisions and policies on their behalf. The NCAA’s governing body is made up of “people who, quite understandably, act in their own interests when they are given the power to do so,” as Stephen Ross, director of the Penn State Institute for Sports Law, Policy, and Research, put it. That is to say, it is in the best interest of the NCAA and the schools it represents to increase the profitability of the programs. Consider the parallels with findings around CTE and concussions in professional sports: players are evaluated by team doctors, but those doctors are being paid by the teams, whose owners don’t want to incur the loss associated with having a guy sit out. So often, guys get sent back on the field or court before they’re fully healed.
The major difference between college and the pros is guys in the pros are being compensated well for putting their bodies on the line. For many of the college athletes, they’re being cheated at every turn. They’re missing out on the full academic experience — and many are leaving early or even graduating with no employable skills, thanks to their advisers steering them into paper classes. Many athletic administrators are unapologetic (privately) in their stance that, heck yeah we’re going to steer our athletes into basket weaving, or whatever classes will keep them eligible. If they’re here to play football, they should be able to focus on giving their all to football, not be distracted with rigorous courses.
The other difference is that for many college athletes, they’re not likely to ever reach the pro level, meaning the peak value of their names, images and likenesses is reached while they’re playing college football or basketball. By the time they are no longer under the NCAA’s rules, they’re also no longer in a position to profit from the brands they’ve invested so much blood and sweat and so many tears into. It’s time for the NCAA to stop baller blockin’ and let these athletes get paid. In the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball, in which Black student-athletes are far over represented compared to the overall student population, the excuse that providing students with a scholarship and the opportunity to pursue an education is one that is weak at best, and deceptive at worst.
Undeniably, any policy opening the door for players to be compensated will need to be heavily regulated to monitor for potential abuses. But there are lots of ways to get this done. Guests at the Knight Commission meeting suggested things from collective bargaining agreements that would benefit both the players and the schools to allowing players to be paid for appearances at local businesses, or even just simply not deterring them from other opportunities they find themselves.
But first the rules have to change.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, one of the commission’s co-chairs, suggested to Stallworth that the best way to get this done is for players to organize to sit out one full Saturday en masse.
“Whether it’s [paying players], or health safety or focusing on academic outcomes, for me, the pace of change in the NCAA is always very slow,” Duncan said. “And student-athletes have a power that they don’t quite recognize. If they choose to not compete, that changes things quite quickly.”
Citing the swift response when University of Missouri football players threatened to boycott last fall, Duncan continued, “having the willingness to sit out just one football game, that university president was removed in like three days. That’s not the typical pace of change.” Duncan suggested players across NCAA FBS schools opt not to play, “forcing change that way.”
“Not playing on a Saturday as a team, or a number of teams, is a very different level of protest,” he said.