P.J. Fleck last week got a multi-year contract extension worth millions to continue coaching Minnesota football. Reportedly, Fleck was the third-lowest-paid football coach in the Big Ten at $3.5 million a year.
But it remains that the players, who are largely responsible for today’s big-time college sports, still aren’t getting a dime for their efforts. “We have been looking at this for a very long time,” Drexel Professor Ellen Staurowsky said on the pay-for-play issue.
The NCAA for years has stonewalled this, Staurowsky pointed out. “It is deeply, deeply troubling to me. Embedded in their message are claims that are astounding if you understand how long the NCAA has been engaged in the oppression of its workforce.”
There have been occasional challenges to the NCAA over the years. Northwestern University football players sought to be unionized and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in the players’ favor in 2011, but the school appealed and the decision was overruled.
Now-retired Michigan State University law professors Robert and Amy McCormick wrote in their 2010 article, “Major College Sports: A Modern Apartheid” that college players, in essence, provide free labor. Amy McCormick noted, “The players who are responsible for creating [all of it] are generating all this money for the universities, coaches, and building huge stadiums.”
“What we are arguing about [is] the rights of athletes to operate within a free market and to realize their value in that market. That opportunity has been systemically stripped away from athletes over the period of the 20th Century,” Staurowsky said.
Once upon a time, though, college players did get paid. “There were athletes in the early 1900s and in the 1910s who had the opportunity to benefit financially. That right was stripped away through the [NCAA] regulatory system.” Staurowsky recalled.
“What they are about here is a long game,” Staurowsky said of the NCAA. “Positioning themselves as forward-thinking is simply untrue.”
But is the issue of paying college players only skin deep? University of Massachusetts at Amherst Associate Political Science Professor Tatishe Nteta has found that oftentimes racial resentment is found among survey respondents, and pay-for-play is no exception.
“I think on the issue of paying college players, it becomes racialized,” Nteta told us. “The assumption…is that benefit will disproportionally go to African Americans in particular.” Blacks by almost two-to-one support the issue more than Whites, he added.
Robert McCormick, when asked if Nteta’s results might be different if Whites instead of Blacks were the majority of today’s college football and basketball players, said, “I think there would be a different picture for sure.”
Finally, at least a dozen states, including Minnesota, are considering legislation similar to the California law that becomes effective in 2023 allowing college players to seek compensation for the use of their names and likenesses while in school.
“My recommendation is that those individual [states] who are proposing bills similar to California’s is to double down and come back at it even harder,” Staurowsky said, “because the NCAA has demonstrated that they are not operating in good faith.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.