“Play for Pay” and politics; is USATF killing its own sport?

Tennessee Lawmakers Debate NCAA Changes

This morning, we begin with somewhat continuing news concerning the NCAA and the “pay for play” debate. NLRB’s decision last week which allowed football players to unionize at Northwestern University (and the potential to receive payment as the University’s employees) ignited conversations all over the country. Some lawmakers in Tennessee are trying to come up with adequate ways to address the problems with the NCAA and the lack of protection athletes have, but there is difficulty in reaching that balance.

State Representative Antonio Parkinson is sponsoring a bill (Senate Bill 2511) that would provide post-graduate stipends to certain sports’ athletes “who have no career in sports after graduation.” Last week, the Senate Education Committee “debated a bill that would grant a one-time stipend to every Division I athlete who completes a four-year university in Tennessee.” The proposed bill would force schools to retain “1 percent of their revenue from ticket sales, merchandising and (most importantly) television contracts to create a fund to pay student-athletes after graduation.” Athletes who compete in “Tier 1” sports (football, basketball, baseball, track and field) would receive a $50,000 stipend after graduation; all other athletes would receive $25,000. Stipend paid after graduation are not dependent on gender, individual skill or team performance. The committee split 4-4 on the issue, with State Senator Steve Dickerson maintaining a stalemate in his abstention.

The article raises a few concerns about the bill. First, the bill would violate current NCAA rules. Even State Rep. Parkinson admitted this point, so let’s move to the second point – its lack of fairness. Some debate whether “a football player should receive more than a swimmer.” This comment points out a potential subtle contradiction within the structure of the bill. The bill appears nondiscriminatory on its face: all athletes will receive money regardless of its teams’ skill, individual skill or gender. In the same vein, the bill points out that athletes of four teams specifically mentioned will receive more than other athletes in other sports will. That maneuver may single out what teams are “better.” It may also be the case that those top four teams are the ones bringing in the most amount of money to the athletic program. In this sense, while it may not appear fair because some athletes receive more money than others, it is because those sports have a wider national audience, and thus they should be compensated appropriately. It may not seem fair, but it is a more “right” result.

Another problem cited by skeptics of the bill lies with Title IX and whether payment in this fashion (if upheld) would run afoul of funding men and women equally. Of the “Tier 1” group, only two of the sports inherently include both genders: basketball and track and field. Even if the bill included softball to complement baseball, football does not have an identifiable co-sport for women. In order to comply with Title IX, the bill would have to choose another sport (or two) to balance the compensation field. Doing that, however, could lead to a number of exceptions to the bill, as well as illustrating unfairness to the men’s sports who don’t receive that money because of legislation on the sole basis of gender.

Arguably the biggest problem with the bill comes from the lack of perspective. Here’s a key quote from the article which shows how off the focus is: “State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, the Memphis Democrat who sponsors the bill, said stipends would help the vast majority of intercollegiate athletes, who have no career in sports after graduation, get on their feet.” It is unsurprising to most senior athletes whether they will make it into professional athletics (perhaps spring sports may contend with this, but it’s not true for the vast majority) – you will or you will not. Recall that 99% of student-athletes who graduate from college do not make it into professional athletics. Why, then, is Sen. Parkinson structuring the bill as a safety net for athletes who don’t make it, when these student-athletes are graduating from college?

I interpret this as an implicit assumption that college athletes who attend the University of Tennessee lack the requisite skills to obtain a job post-graduation, and therefore need extra money to hold them over, to start their own businesses, or just to make ends meet. You don’t hear anything about helping them get into graduate schools, assisting them in finding post-graduation employment or any related guidance. Unless they want to pursue careers that require a post-undergraduate education, students who leave the university should already possess those skills to go out into the working world. Perhaps it is best to sacrifice some of that athletic prowess and start going to class to learn important information and skills so universities don’t send crap like this out into the world. (And no, not all athletes are stupid – it just looks that way because that’s the kind of protection I see going on here).

TFAA: Sponsors, Don’t Penalize Your Athletes

Out of the frying pan, into the fire: we turn from the conflicts in the NCAA world to conflicts between USATF and its athletes – a conflict the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) is working furiously to quell. Its latest action began when it propositioned corporate sponsors not to penalize its athletes by cutting their pay when they boycott USATF-sponsored events. So far, a few corporate sponsors agreed to amend its contracts with athletes to protect the athletes’ interests. “Our immediate goal with this amendment is that athletes feel more safe taking a stand,” TFAA treasurer Ann Gaffigan says. “If we get to the point in the future where we have to ask athletes to make a stand, they’ll have firmer ground to stand on.” If TFAA can persuade enough sponsors to follow suit, its athletes can establish an effective boycott which will force USATF to communicate with TFAA. The recent substantial increase in actions and movement by TFAA came from the two controversial disqualifications of Gabriele Grunewald (later cleared, but not in complying with USATF rules) and Andrew Bumbalough (still disqualified, but for no legitimate reason) at the 2014 Indoor National Championships. USATF continues to ignore TFAA requests to discuss the matter in person, but USATF claimed that they had a “working group” that “will look into the matter.” You can find a related article on the matter by clicking here – that article goes into more depth concerning the controversy, as well as including a few comments by TFAA members and track and field athletes frustrated with the situation.

In related news, letsrun.com put out an article about the continuing Gabriele Grunewald debacle and how USATF utterly failed in applying the correct rules. It looks quite similar to the other article I posted a while back, so I thought I would simply reference it instead of going into detail. Synopsis: the “new and conclusive evidence” USATF claimed to have wasn’t new. All it did was look at it from a different angle using a different medium (use of a computer instead of a TV screen).

Checking in on Rio 2016, we learn that it continues to struggle to meet deadlines…and also to meet in general. A “fundamentally important meeting” for the federal, state and local agencies working on the Olympics that was scheduled to take place on March 27 “has been pushed back 5 days.” The new meeting is scheduled to begin tomorrow (April 1). Given the substantial procrastination of the people working this project, it’s doubtful if even this meeting will take place.

Finally, Boston has unveiled more information about the exhibit it is putting up starting April 7 in remembrance of the bombing tragedy last year at its marathon.




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