Article critical of the NCAA's approval of voluntary workouts

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"Player safety takes back seat as NCAA rushes to allow campus workouts"

By Michael Cunningham, Tha Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Starting June 1, college football and basketball players will return to campus and get back to work as COVID-19 continues to spread (the SEC will allow it on June 8). The NCAA says the workouts are “voluntary” and must be initiated by athletes. But those words don’t mean much when there’s a power imbalance between players (who have little) and coaches (who have a lot).

It’s clear what’s happening. College sports programs are facing enormous pressure to make money. They especially need football games in the fall for that goal. The NCAA’s decision to end the moratorium on athletic activity is the first step in getting unpaid, revenue-producing athletes back on the job during a global pandemic.

Given the track record of college sports, there is good reason to believe that the health and safety of athletes will be a low priority in this pursuit of money. That’s the case during normal times. The shameful outcomes of that mistreatment include the mismanagement of concussions suffered by athletes, covering up the sexual abuse of athletes and football players dying from heat strokes during workouts.

Now college sports programs are charged with looking out for player health and safety during a global pandemic. That’s because the NCAA (predictably) punted on creating real rules to do it. There’s no one without conflicts within the NCAA power structure advocating for athlete health, and no independent authority forcing the organization to do it.

Ramogi Huma advocates for athletes as executive director of the National College Players Association. Huma started doing it while still a football player at UCLA because he saw that athletes have few basic protections.

Huma said he’s not opposed to college sports staging competition this year so long as there are real health protections for athletes, they are fully informed of the potential risks and they don’t feel pressured to play.

“Rules need to be enforced and safety standards should be set by public health experts, not sports administrators with conflicts of interest,” Huma said. “Everyone should agree with that.”

That should include people who believe college athletes should be denied their basic economic rights. If they aren’t getting paid, they should at least have health protections.

The leaders of college sports programs say that the safety of athletes and staff are their top priority. While lifting the moratorium, the NCAA’s Division I council said it “emphasized the importance” of protecting player safety. It said access to facilities “should be provided in compliance with” state and local regulations.

But notice that those are suggestions, not mandates with penalties for failure to comply. This is standard procedure for the NCAA.
When it purportedly is looking out for the welfare of athletes, it issues “recommendations” to member schools with no oversight or consequences for violations. Meanwhile, the NCAA goes to court and “denies that it has a legal duty to protect student-athletes."

It’s a different story when the NCAA wants to protect its exploitative “amateur” model. Then it creates a labyrinth of detailed rules to prevent athletes from earning their true market value with stiff penalties for players and programs who violate them.

The NCAA’s lack of oversight on player safety and the financial motives of sports programs have always been a detriment to real reform. COVID-19 raises the stakes for player health. Unlike concussions, it’s a contagious virus that’s difficult to control.

Public health experts expect additional waves of COVID-19 in the fall (just in time for football). With no mandatory NCAA protocols, player safety is in the hands of coaches, medical staff and administrators who are desperate to generate revenue. It’s not a good situation for athletes.

Huma offered the hypothetical of a quarterback at a big-time program waking up on game day with a cough and fever, two symptoms of COVID-19. “We already know what’s going to happen,” he said. “We’ve seen players suffer concussions on national TV and being kept in the game while staggering around. There’s no accountability. It is unreasonable to think coaches and athletic programs will do right by players.”

The NCAA’s toothless efforts to improve player safety haven’t worked. It adopted “recommendations and best practices” for an independent model of medical care in 2017. The goal was for physicians and athletic training staff to provide care for athletes “free of pressure or influence from nonmedical factors.” As usual, those guidelines for athlete welfare came with no NCAA oversight or penalties for failure to comply. The results were predictable for anyone familiar with how college sports works.

Only 53% of respondents to a National Athletic Trainers’ Association survey last year said their programs complied with the independent medical care model. About 19% of respondents said a coach allowed an athlete to participate after the athlete had been declared medically ineligible. If so many programs ignored NCAA guidelines on player health before the pandemic, there’s little reason to think they’ll do it now when there’s even more pressure to play games to make money.

“Self-policing doesn’t work,” Huma said. Not when people in power view labor as expendable. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said that quiet part out loud in April. He called for the quick return of players to campus because they are healthy young athletes who can fight off the virus and, anyway, OSU needs “to continue to budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

It dehumanizes athletes to say they should play because COVID-19 isn’t a big threat to them. It’s disgusting when it’s said by a coach who’s become a multimillionaire by extracting the value of his players’ labor. It would be easier to dismiss Gundy’s comments as an outlier in college sports if the NCAA model weren’t built on a foundation of that exploitation.

Another problem with the view that COVID-19 isn’t much of a risk for players: the possible long-term health effects is one of many unknowns about the virus. And anyone who thinks athletes who get sick won’t have it so bad should read Florida State football player Andrew Boselli’s essay on his experience with COVID_19.

Boselli was infected in March along with his father, mother and brother. Boselli wrote on the team’s website that he didn’t initially take the coronavirus seriously. Now he offers a warning.

“I promise, even if you’re young and healthy, you do not want this virus,” Boselli wrote. “Although I had what doctors consider to be a ‘mild’ case of it, my experience was anything but mild.”

Boselli’s father — former NFL All-Pro offensive tackle Tony Boselli — ended up in intensive care when his condition worsened. That’s a reminder that the issue isn’t just about young athletes. It’s also about the older people they might interact with. The list includes coaches, staff, administrators, professors and family members.

Nor can it be assumed that all college athletes are mostly immune to the harshest effects of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists underlying conditions that may place people at higher risk of severe illness. Among them are heart disease, obesity and hypertension.

Ted Tatos, writing for The American Prospect, notes that multiple studies show football players, especially larger linemen, are at higher risk for those conditions.

Said Huma: “I’ve not heard one word about what programs’ plan will be with players that fall into those categories.”

Huma believes schools should be required to fully inform players about the risks of participating in sports now. That includes information about their susceptibility to those underlying health conditions. For players to have a real choice in the matter, they must be assured that they will keep their scholarship if they aren’t comfortable participating in sports during the pandemic.

Huma’s hope is that legislators eventually intervene to create rules for player safety based on guidance from public health experts. He’s calling for that effort to be financed by NCAA schools and enforced by an independent third party.

Pressure from lawmakers eventually forced the NCAA to give athletes (incrementally) more rights to their name, image and likeness (NLI). I’m skeptical the same can happen with player safety. Huma said he’s optimistic after talking with lawmakers while in Washington for a U.S. Senate hearing in February.

“Both sides of the (political) aisle understand that the NCAA is taking advantage of athletes in many ways, not just NLI,” Huma said.
Lifting its ban on sports activities is the latest way the NCAA is doing that. Now member schools will bring unpaid athletes back to campus during a pandemic so they can prepare to play and make money for those schools.
 

douglasbader

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Thanks for making a new thread on this. Very important that you did this.
 

L. Wade Childress

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In other shocking news, Sports Reporter that chose a profession of covering sports hates sports and wants to see it burnt to the ground.
Not possible. I was told that people would not use this crisis to attack sports and that anyone who thought otherwise was an idiot.
 

douglasbader

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Not possible. I was told that people would not use this crisis to attack sports and that anyone who thought otherwise was an idiot.
Nobody of significance told you that. If anything, everyone agreed with it.
 

Jimmie Dimmick

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Why do reporters not want sports? I haven’t really paid all that much attention. They enjoy being unemployed?
 

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A lot of sportswriters tend to be liberal, have fallen in love with the idea of sports as a metaphor for everything in life, and therefore seem to see any sort of conflict in sports as a proxy for some sort of social struggle.

Therefore, this issue is rich owners (or the evil NCAA) caring about profits over the health and safety of downtrodden players.
 

douglasbader

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A lot of sportswriters tend to be liberal, have fallen in love with the idea of sports as a metaphor for everything in life, and therefore seem to see any sort of conflict in sports as a proxy for some sort of social struggle.

Therefore, this issue is rich owners (or the evil NCAA) caring about profits over the health and safety of downtrodden players.
Yep, and they all seem to think that NCAA Football and Basketball players would/should be rolling in cash from their share of TV deals and image and likeness money. They are totally being fucked out of their "fair share" by evil corporate greed.

Nevermind that the reality is 17k+ players at any one time in NCAA FBS and Division I are getting a life changing free education including free room/board for 4+ years and this has changed the direction of thousands and thousands of lives including many first generation college graduates from black and brown families. Nevermind that the players, while important, aren't the reason a single core dime is made. The reason is the connection to schools by the viewing audience that is enhanced by individual players.

The majority of athletes in these 2 sports at this level are black. If college sports burned to the ground as it seems more than a few woke sports journalists are desperate to have happen, then that is a tragic amount of kids that wouldn't even attend college at all or if they did would be drowning in debt.
 

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As has been pointed out countless times, if people actually were spending their money based on the talent and draw of the players, then why aren't the G-League playoffs bigger than the NCAA Tournament?

Why does league after league of upstart pro football struggle to draw 10k fans and fail miserably while even mid-level Power 5 programs are drawing 50k despite a wide gap in talent?
 

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As has been pointed out countless times, if people actually were spending their money based on the talent and draw of the players, then why aren't the G-League playoffs bigger than the NCAA Tournament?

Why does league after league of upstart pro football struggle to draw 10k fans and fail miserably while even mid-level Power 5 programs are drawing 50k despite a wide gap in talent?
A guy like Jordan Bohannon is actually a perfect example. Yes, he’s a good college player. But 99% of the value that he creates for the University of Iowa comes from the Iowa jersey he’s wearing.
 

douglasbader

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A guy like Jordan Bohannon is actually a perfect example. Yes, he’s a good college player. But 99% of the value that he creates for the University of Iowa comes from the Iowa jersey he’s wearing.
He might be able to get a few grand here and there out of a desperate local car dealership. Maybe get a few hundred dollars for an autograph session.

The problem is that I don't think image and likeness rights is what any of the players or guys like Bilas want. They want direct payments to the players from the NCAA, but if you asked them for an amount that would be fair it would either be a blank stuttering response or something so absurd it would never happen or any amount offered wouldn't be enough.
 

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He might be able to get a few grand here and there out of a desperate local car dealership. Maybe get a few hundred dollars for an autograph session.

The problem is that I don't think image and likeness rights is what any of the players or guys like Bilas want. They want direct payments to the players from the NCAA, but if you asked them for an amount that would be fair it would either be a blank stuttering response or something so absurd it would never happen or any amount offered wouldn't be enough.
The problem with a payment from the NCAA is that it doesn’t actually address the value question. The couple dozen or so guys a year that are actually worth more than their scholarship Are going to get the same check as the second string long snapper at Bumfuck State.
 

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The problem with a payment from the NCAA is that it doesn’t actually address the value question. The couple dozen or so guys a year that are actually worth more than their scholarship Are going to get the same check as the second string long snapper at Bumfuck State.
They could offer them $2k per year or $200k per year and it wouldn't matter. It might as well be the same amount. The battle cry would be that Saban makes $9m or Ferentz makes $4.5m and it isn't enough for the players and is unfair.
 

L. Wade Childress

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He might be able to get a few grand here and there out of a desperate local car dealership. Maybe get a few hundred dollars for an autograph session.

The problem is that I don't think image and likeness rights is what any of the players or guys like Bilas want. They want direct payments to the players from the NCAA, but if you asked them for an amount that would be fair it would either be a blank stuttering response or something so absurd it would never happen or any amount offered wouldn't be enough.
Well actually

Bohannon is the best example of someone who is worth far, far more in college (mostly because he’s perfectly blended his personality and game with wearing an iowa jersey) than he would be professionally or in the real world. I have no doubt he could make tens of thousands this year.

I mean, that’s partly because I would personally give him ten grand to score 30 on ISU and the ask Prohm to try to hold him back again, but it’s money nonetheless.
 

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Well actually

Bohannon is the best example of someone who is worth far, far more in college (mostly because he’s perfectly blended his personality and game with wearing an iowa jersey) than he would be professionally or in the real world. I have no doubt he could make tens of thousands this year.

I mean, that’s partly because I would personally give him ten grand to score 30 on ISU and the ask Prohm to try to hold him back again, but it’s money nonetheless.
That's what I was trying to get at. Yeah, Bohannon is good. And it's not like the players don't matter at all - obviously a guy like Bohannon could get a lot more money on the side than Jack Nunge. But it's the jersey that creates the value first.
 

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That's what I was trying to get at. Yeah, Bohannon is good. And it's not like the players don't matter at all - obviously a guy like Bohannon could get a lot more money on the side than Jack Nunge. But it's the jersey that creates the value first.
Correct, LWade as an IOWA fan, is giving him that money because he wears the IOWA jersey. LWade is not giving Drake guard 10 grand to drop 30 on UNI.
 

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Correct, LWade as an IOWA fan, is giving him that money because he wears the IOWA jersey. LWade is not giving Drake guard 10 grand to drop 30 on UNI.
That's exactly the right way to explain it. Yes, Jordan Bohannon could absolutely get money on the side. Let's say there's a world where NCAA teams offer no scholarship money at all, and players have to pay to attend. But the schools pay them a salary and they're free to pursue side endorsements. In that situation, would Bohannon get more than the $150K scholarship he's getting over 5 years? I don't know, maybe. But all of that misses the point of who's bringing the value to this equation in the first place. If the exact same player had chosen to go to Drake instead of Iowa, or go out of state somewhere like Eastern Illinois, Iowans wouldn't give a shit about him. Iowa isn't exploiting him, Iowa is the reason he has "value".

And yeah, I think the Byzantine NCAA rules that prevent him from capturing any sort of side value could be re-worked, but the Jay Bilas style crying about exploitation gets old.
 
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Jimmie Dimmick

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And just to be clear for the NCAA, LWade as a booster is not actually giving Jordan Bohannon 10 grand.
I mean, he can, but with that kind of money I would hope for better recruits than a small SG out of Lin-Mar
 

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Actually, I think basketball has it correct. No need to allow them to get paid. If they have value like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett- skip college and get paid. Otherwise, you get free college in trade for exposure to build value. You have the freedom to declare when you feel your value is there.
Those that go pro in something other than basketball get free education plus high level support for their service/sacrifice to the University. Without sports they would be paying just like the rest of us.
 

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I mean, he can, but with that kind of money I would hope for better recruits than a small SG out of Lin-Mar
10 grand is not baller money, James. A 6A athlete with options is not even getting out of bed for LWade bucks
 

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Actually, I think basketball has it correct. No need to allow them to get paid. If they have value like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett- skip college and get paid. Otherwise, you get free college in trade for exposure to build value. You have the freedom to declare when you feel your value is there.
Those that go pro in something other than basketball get free education plus high level support for their service/sacrifice to the University. Without sports they would be paying just like the rest of us.
I do think the limits on endorsement money are too stringent. They end up just creating an under the table market for top players anyway.
 

L. Wade Childress

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Correct, LWade as an IOWA fan, is giving him that money because he wears the IOWA jersey. LWade is not giving Drake guard 10 grand to drop 30 on UNI.
to that point, there are drake fans that would. But there are far fewer of them, and that’s what limits the potential.
 
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