Patrick T. Harker, President of the University of Delaware and NCAA propagandist
(More on the NCAA labor cartel here)
Recently the National Labor Relations Board (be sure to download their smartphone app – if you can think of a reason why they need one) ruled that football players at Northwestern University were employees and have the right to form a union and bargain collectively. The NYT covered it here: College Players Granted Right to Form Union.
Seeking political leverage over this legal and economic threat, the NCAA has fought back with a propaganda piece on the same platform: Student Athletes Shouldn’t Unionize.
The author is Patrick T. Harker, President of the University of Delaware and member of the board of directors of the NCAA-Division I. If you’re looking for a predictor of his position on this price-fixing labor cartel, please note he’s also a director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, home to another kind of price-fixing.
Let’s analyze what he’s saying:
Student Athletes Shouldn’t Unionize
Already he’s starting in with the “Student Athlete” misnomer. The NLRB decision noted players spend more hours per week (40-60) on sports than they do on their studies, often more hours than in a typical full-time job. Everyone else of the tens of thousands of people associated with NCAA sports are employees paid a market wage. If these athletes are working more than full time and generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue, it’s simply dishonest to imply their primary role is that of a “student”. A better title would be “Contract Athlete”.
NEWARK, Del. — LAST week’s ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that players on Northwestern University’s football team were school employees, and thus eligible to unionize, has been celebrated by those who believe that it will benefit student athletes everywhere.
It won’t. Player unions would be a disaster for universities, for college sports fans and, most important, for student athletes themselves. The prospect of college football players bargaining to exchange scholarships for salaries is still remote, but if it comes about, even the most valuable athletes would be worse off.
First, some bold hypocrisy…
Harker’s 2011-20112 salary was $735,681, for which he surely argued the University needs to pay a market rate for his skills, using the very price discovery and market discipline he denies to his athletes. Given that the football team’s 99 players each receive no salary, he is truly in the 1%.
…followed by a bogus argument…
He claims this development would actually hurt athletes. This defies logic. Given that their salaries are zero and can’t go negative, isn’t it mathematically impossible for things to get worse for the players?
…backed up by phony logic:
He claims that if football players were to receive salaries, it would be at the expense of their scholarships. Nobody’s been talking about “exchanging” scholarships for salaries; this is a dishonest scare tactic.
Turning student athletes into salaried employees would endanger the existence of varsity sports on many college campuses. Only about 10 percent of Division I college sports programs turn a profit, and most of them, like our $28 million athletic program at the University of Delaware, lose money. Changing scholarship dollars into salary would almost certainly increase the amount schools have to spend on sports, since earnings are taxed and scholarships are not. In order just to match the value of a scholarship, the university would have to spend more.
Really? The University of Delaware loses money on its athletic program? I’d like to see the comprehensive accounting on this. Strong sports programs famously generate huge flows of alumni donations. I doubt these were accounted for. This sounds like Hollywood accounting in which a movie can sell $500 million in tickets and still claim a net loss.
The University of Delaware football stadium (Go Fightin’ Blue Hens!) seats 22,000 – having received four major expansions since 1952 – and consistently sells out for home games. If they say they’re losing money, somebody’s either incompetent or lying.
And even if honest accounting showed the program really was losing money, then why continue it as it is? Why should students and taxpayers funding an education at a state school be forced to subsidize a lavish $28 million per year athletic program?
He’s again repeating that false claim that scholarships will first have to be converted into salaries. And he then tries to scare us by claiming this portion of the players’ compensation will become taxable and thus actually reduce their income.
We are among the many schools that have already had to trim varsity sports in recent years. Should costs increase, we and many other schools would face pressure to cut back further.
If his remarkable investment in athletic facilities (five stadiums, three arenas, two golf courses, a 4,000 seat field house, etc.) was “trimmed” recently, I can’t imagine what it was like before.
Without question, some big schools have lost their way. On some campuses the pursuit of athletic dominance has eroded the ideal of the student athlete. Players at these schools have every right to complain, particularly when the demands of competition effectively prevent them from being students. But the answer is not to organize and essentially turn pro. This would only further lessen the priority on learning. If scholarship athletes already find it hard to balance schoolwork with team commitments, under arrangements that obligate educational opportunity, think how much harder it would be if they were being paid to play.
Translation: If you think we overwork them now, to the detriment of their education, imagine how hard we’d work them if they actually earned a salary!
The answer for young athletes who want to be paid to play is not to target universities, which have a different mission, but professional sports leagues like the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, which still bar high school athletes from turning pro. If players are good enough to earn a living at that age, I say, let them. Very few, however, are that good. At the college level, even the highest-ranked teams field relatively few players who will ever play a day of professional sports.
The problem isn’t “young athletes who want to be paid to play”, but colleges that on the one hand use their athletes to relentlessly pursue their commercial goals while on the other claiming those very same athletes are unworthy of any commercial consideration.
Strong athletic departments do two things well. They afford young athletes the chance to reach their full potential,
Giving the colleges a full four years to exploit that potential for commercial gain…
and they prepare them for life when the cheering stops.
…if you consider four years of financial exploitation leading to arrival at graduation flat broke and burdened with student loans to be “preparation”.
For the vast majority of student athletes, that life begins at graduation. For the exceptional ones who make it to the pros, post-sport life begins soon enough. The average length of a pro football career is only about three years.
If the average pro football player plays four years in college and then three in the pros, this means more than half his money-generating productivity was confiscated by his college.
Valuing education doesn’t have to compromise an athlete’s potential.
Straw man, prepare to be knocked down by a college lineman…
Here at the University of Delaware, Elena Delle Donne played women’s basketball from 2009 to 2013, earning top collegiate honors and helping the team become one of the best in the nation. She was a top pick in the Women’s National Basketball Association draft and was later named rookie of the year. In college, she maintained a 3.6 G.P.A., earning a degree in human services.
…and one swallow does not a summer make.
My own experience as a student athlete was more typical. I was a good student in high school, and a good football player. My options at graduation were greatly multiplied by my success as an athlete. I accepted financial help to play at the University of Pennsylvania, where I majored in engineering. An injury in my junior year brought my football career to an end. Then I discovered my passion for research, went on to earn a Ph.D. in engineering and embarked on a path that has taken me places I never imagined when playing on a defensive line.
This is the reality for most college athletes, even in the five major conferences. If the football players at Northwestern think they will do better for themselves by collecting a salary in college, they’re wrong.
He earned a Ph.D. in engineering and then went on to become a White House Fellow, university president and a director of both the Goldman Sachs Trust and a Federal Reserve Bank? No, his experience was not “typical” and that’s not the “reality” for most college athletes. This is the 1% talking.
My advice, even to those talented enough to turn pro straight out of high school, is the same: Play ball but be smart. Earn a degree.
Start with business or law, so you can get a fair deal while you’re there.
Patrick T. Harker is the president of the University of Delaware and a member of the board of directors of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Division I.
22,000 paying fans but not a penny for that small group of contract athletes in the center
They say the definition of “spin” is “hope disguised as observation”. Harker’s piece is dishonest propaganda and contains the well-crafted spin of a press release from a special interest lobbying group. I suspect it was written by political operatives at the NCAA (that might be plagiarism in the classroom, but not in the board room). His role here is that of a corporate lobbyist, not an educator, and he’s not acting in the best interests of his students. With his phony logic I’m sure eyes are rolling in his university’s academic departments.
The one guy at the top makes $735,681 and the 99 guys at the bottom who actually do the physical labor all get nothing. Two hundred years ago Delaware had another name for this arrangement.
Patrick Harker and the NCAA are on the wrong side of history.