MONEY Sports

How College Football Sacked the NBA and MLB

Houston football fans singing the National Anthem
Dave Einsel—AP

With the college football season upon us, it's time to take stock of just how valuable this "amateur" sport has become.

Want to know how rabid fans have become for college football?

Well, the season kicks off in earnest tonight when the South Carolina Gamecocks (ranked 9th in the country) take on the Texas A&M Aggies (ranked 21st).

The game will be played in Columbia, South Carolina, in front of 80,000 screaming fans — an amazing feat given that Columbia has a population of just 133,000. The Aggies, for their part, play in Kyle Field, which in 2015 will be able to hold almost every single College Station, Texas, resident.

Last year, the Gamecocks opened with a game against the University of North Carolina, and 3.7 million people across the country tuned in. That may not sound that impressive, but consider that Columbia is just the 77th largest television market in the U.S., behind cities like Omaha and Toledo.

There’s no doubt about it. Americans love football.

More people watched the NFL Sunday Night pregame show last year than watched the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. In fact, professional football games comprised all but four of the 50 most-watched sporting events of 2013. The National Football League is the most popular spectator sport in America.

What’s No. 2? Not the NBA, not Major League Baseball—but college football. And with college football introducing a new-fangled playoff system this year, expect America’s infatuation to only grow.

Here are a few measures of its influence.

Ratings

The 2013 NBA finals featured perhaps the most popular athlete in the world, Lebron James, as his super team battled against the San Antonio Spurs for seven unforgettable games. An average of almost 18 million viewers saw James secure his second NBA title. A few months later, 15 million baseball fans saw the Red Sox win their third championship since 2004.

How many viewers watched Florida State beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS title game? Twenty-six million, per Nielsen ratings.

This isn’t a one-off event. On average, 2.6 million people watched NCAA regular season football games last year, according to Nielsen. Take Saturday, October 5, 2013. Both the University of Georgia and Tennessee were enduring less than stellar seasons. Nevertheless, 5.6 million people tuned in to see the two Southeastern Conference schools play each another on CBS.

Viewer demand is only likely to increase. Starting this year, college football will institute a four-team playoff to decide the national champion, and rejiggered rules allow the biggest football programs more control over their finances. According to USA Today, these developments will lead to the biggest schools earning 71.5% of the $470 million annual television revenue for the playoff.

Baseball and basketball simply don’t attract as many eyeballs. About 700,000 people watched an MLB regular season game on television in 2013, and 1.4 million watched a non-playoff NBA game in the 2012-13 season. (All are based on nationally televised games.)

The total attendance for 835 NCAA Division I football games was a little more than 38 million, with a per-game attendance of 46,000. The NBA, which has almost 400 more total games in its season, drew 21 million people, while the MLB attracted 30,500 per game. (Major League Baseball has almost three times as many games and brought in a total of 74 million fans.)

Reach

Part of college football’s popularity might be its reach. While the NBA and MLB have 30 teams collected mostly around large metropolitan areas, college football programs exist where there are colleges – which is everywhere. Consider that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco have 15 professional baseball and basketball teams. That’s a quarter of all the teams in only four cities.

Now look at NCAA football. The top five teams play in Tallahassee, Tuscaloosa, Eugene, Norman, and Columbus. While it’s true that a number of the West Coast schools play in big cities (UCLA, Stanford, and the University of Washington), most of the big-time schools are the only game in town. If you live in Boise, Idaho, do you really care about anything else the way you care about Boise State Broncos football?

Riches

There is something a bit unsettling about college football’s popularity, and corresponding affluence. A college football coach is the highest paid public employee in 27 states – including South Carolina and Texas. Alabama’s Nick Saban made more than $5.5 million last year, despite the fact that his and every other team’s players weren’t paid anything. (Many were given athletic scholarships, but those can be taken away if a “student-athlete” becomes injured. Just for some perspective: the University of Texas’s football program earned $82 million in profit last year.)

Plus, football is a dangerous game, and it’s an open question whether an institution of higher learning should even be in the business of promoting a sport that causes severe head trauma. (Google: Owen Thomas.)

College football, though, is inexorably linked to American history. The first intercollegiate game took place four years after the end of the Civil War, and the college game itself was saved by then President Teddy Roosevelt.

Otherwise normal, hard-working Americans revert to 20-year-old fanatics every fall Saturday afternoon and cheer on their alma maters. Tonight’s game in Columbia is just another page in the never-ending story of America’s love with her second-favorite sport.

TIME College Sports

Arizona State University Student Now 1st Openly Gay Division I Football Player

Edward "Chip" Sarafin
Edward "Chip" Sarafin in Phoenix. Arizona State University outside linebacker Sarafin has told a local magazine he is gay, making him the first active Division I football player to come out Arizon State University/AP

Edward Sarafin, a fifth-year student working toward a master's in biomedical engineering, is a linebacker for the Sun Devils

Correction appended, Aug. 14

An Arizona State University football player became the first openly gay Division I football player on Wednesday after coming out in an article published in a gay sports magazine.

Edward “Chip” Sarafin is an offensive lineman with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and who is working toward his master’s at Arizona State University. He told Compete, an Arizona-based gay sports magazine, he started coming out to his teammates last spring so they’d hear it from him, rather than through rumors.

“It was really personal to me, and it benefited my peace of mind greatly,” Sarafin said.

Leaders within the Arizona Sun Devils Athletic Department issued statements in support of Sarafin on Wednesday, while members of the Sun Devil Brotherhood tweeted messages of encouragement. “The entire athletics department is extremely proud of Chip and is unequivocally supportive of him,” vice president of university athletics Ray Anderson said, noting Sarafin’s achievements on and off of the field, including research he’s conducted on football-related concussion.

The football team’s head coach Todd Graham said, “”We are a brotherhood that is not defined by cultural and personal differences, but rather an individual’s commitment to the Sun Devil Way.”

Sarafin’s openness about his sexuality comes months after the NFL drafted its first ever openly gay player Michael Sam, who is currently a linebacker for the St. Louis Rams. On Wednesday, Sam sent out a congratulatory tweet to Sarafin.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated Sarafin’s position.

TIME College Sports

Landmark College Sports Verdict: Harsh, but in the End Puzzling

Ed O'Bannon Jr.
Former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon Jr. sits in his office in Henderson, Nev., Sept. 18, 2010. Isaac Brekken—AP

The judge's injunction in the Ed O'Bannon cases leaves plenty room to further challenge the NCAA's business model down the road

Since the pace of change in college sports is glacial, consider the events of this year – even this past week – a revolution. The latest came down on Friday: a federal judge in the Northern District of California handed down her much-anticipated ruling in the Ed O’Bannon anti-trust case. In a crushing defeat for the NCAA, Judge Claudia Wilken picked apart the NCAA’s long-cherished – though clearly illogical – reasons for failing to fairly compensate college athletes in the sports that produce the bulk of the revenues. Big-time college football players and Division 1 basketball players are now able to earn a cut of licensing revenues from the use of their name, image, and likeness; schools can cap this pay, but the minimum cap is $5,000 per year. This money will be put in a trust that an athlete can access once he or she has graduated or left the school.

The NCAA will very likely appeal the ruling. “We disagree with the Court’s decision that the NCAA rules violate antitrust laws,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement. Wilken said that her injunction could not be stayed during any legal challenge, but would not go into effect until beginning of the next football and basketball recruiting cycles, which get going during the summer of 2015. If the case survives appeal, all future athletes who leave school having earned at least $20,000 during a four-year career owe a debt to O’Bannon. The former UCLA hoops star, who won a national title in 1995, first brought the case forward in 2009 after noticing that his image was being used in a college basketball video game, yet he didn’t receive a dime.

The NCAA has been smacked around. The courts – and some of the schools themselves – have recognized the fundamental hypocrisy of college sports: revenues have soared, and coaches can make millions, while compensation for athletes is limited to a scholarship. Free tuition, room and board is valuable, surely, but many players are worth even more. Wilken also determined that the NCAA could not cap direct compensation below the cost of attendance, which is an extra $2,000 to $5,000 above the athletic scholarship grant covering personal expenses like transportation, clothing and entertainment. The schools, however, had already moved on that one: the NCAA voted on Thursday to allow schools in the Big 5 power conferences – the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC – to set some of their own rules, and these schools are prepared to offer their athletes these cost-of-attendance stipends. Schools in the other Division 1 conferences are welcome to join them.

In March, a regional director for the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern University are indeed employees, and directed the school to hold a unionization vote. The board’s national office has yet to weigh in on the school’s appeal. Unions could help players gain than even more money at the bargaining table.

“If you look at the Northwestern union decision and the O’Bannon case, here you have two significant departures from the way judges and the government traditionally view at the role of student-athletes in college athletics,” says Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane University Sports Law Program. “If this is the trend, it could be the beginning of the end of the NCAA’s model,” Feldman added.

Wilken’s injunction alone did not entirely blow up the NCAA’s business. Schools can still cap trust payments at $5,000 per year and prevent athletes from receiving third-party endorsements. But her condemnation of the NCAA is sweeping, and almost invites a future plaintiff to try to tear everything down and create a true open market for college athletes.

Some damning examples from the text of the ruling:

  • “The evidence … demonstrates that student-athletes are harmed by the price-fixing agreement among FBS football and Division 1 basketball schools.” In other words, if you’ve played big-time college football or basketball, particularly during the extreme growth period of the last decade or so, you’ve gotten totally screwed. In this section, Wilken notes that the NCAA’s own economic expert called the organization a “cartel” in a textbook he wrote. The NCAA’s effort to keep operating as-is comes off as desperate and silly.
  • “Although the NCAA sought to establish the importance of these restrictions by asserting that they increase consumer interest in FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) and Division 1 basketball, its evidence supporting this assertion is unpersuasive.” Finally, we can put to bed the defense that paying college players would cause fans to stop watching games or going to them. After all, what else are you going to do on fall Saturdays? Plus, tailgates are a way of life, and fun as hell. Wilken cites the Olympics and Major League Baseball to back her up. People fretted about allowing professionals into the Olympics, and fought baseball free agency, under the guise that more money for athletes would ruin everything. Yet, the Olympics remain extremely popular, and baseball is economically strong.
  • “The number of schools participating in FBS football and Division 1 basketball has increased steadily over time and continues to increase today … Although [NCAA president Mark] Emmert and other NCAA and conference officials say that this trend is not the result of increased Division 1 revenues, but, rather, because of the schools’ philosophical commitment to amateurism, this theory is implausible.” Translate ”implausible” from the legalese and you have a much stronger word: a federal judge has officially called B.S. on amateurism, which has pretty much been the bedrock of the NCAA’s existence. Schools clamor to play big-time sports to win games and raise a school’s profile and attract more money. If they truly cared about some idyllic, love-of-the-game “amateur” ideal, they’d move down into Division 3. Of course, no schools have done that, and wouldn’t take such action if they had to pay players more, despite protests that these payments are too expensive. “The NCAA’s assertion that schools would leave FBS and Division 1 for financial reasons if the challenged restraints were removed is not credible,” Wilken writes. Ouch, more rough rhetoric. How does Wilken know that FBS schools will still play on? One of the NCAA’s own witnesses, University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides, said as much, testifying that his school “would probably continue to compete in football and men’s basketball” if current compensation caps were lifted. The NCAA has a witness problem.

One key question does arise from Wilken’s finding: If the NCAA’s current payment cap is anti-competitive and harms athletes, why is the cap on a trust fund, somewhat arbitrarily set at $5,000 per year, not anti-competitive? While Wilken goes on for pages ripping apart the NCAA’s arguments with strong evidence, the support for her own assertion that compensation limits are justified is far less convincing.

In the ruling, for example, Wilken addresses the main concern about a true open labor market: “These administrators noted, depending on how much compensation was ultimately awarded, some student-athletes might receive more money from the school than their professors. Student-athletes might be more inclined to separate themselves from the broader campus community by living and socializing off campus.”

Wilken then brings up the flaws of such thinking. “It is not clear that any of the potential problems identified by the NCAA’s witnesses would be unique to student athletes.” Yup, there are plenty of kids on college campuses with lush trust funds and nice cars and access to spending money on college campuses. Most of them haven’t earned it. That’s fine. But if a kid who has worked his tail off playing football or basketball, who might be from a poor family, who’s helping generate millions for the school, is paid a market wage and sets foot on campus with some cash? That’s somehow offensive.

The judge goes here with her line of questioning. “In fact, when the Court asked Dr. Emmert whether other wealthy students – such as those from rich families or start successful businesses during school – raise all of the same problems for campus relations, he replied that they did.” What, really? Haven’t heard of the rich-kid scourge tearing apart college campuses. Wilken continues: “It is also not clear why paying student-athletes would be any more problematic for campus relations than paying other students who provide services to the university, such as members of the student government or school newspaper.”

In three sentences, Wilken legitimizes the arguments pay-for-play advocates have been making for years. So her big conclusion is … “Nonetheless, the Court finds that certain limited restrictions on student-athlete compensation may help integrate student-athletes into the academic communities of their schools, which may in turn improve the schools’ education product.”

What? Here’s another way to read this part of the ruling. Wilken: “Athletes should be paid. Athletes should be paid. Athletes should be paid. So we’ll pay them, but set limits. Why? Err … well, because, ‘nonetheless?’”

After this puzzling paragraph, she does site some justification for her finding. She refers to a survey in which many respondents said they would be less likely to watch college athletics if players were paid $20,000 or $50,000 per year. Wilken supposes that respondents would say they’d keep watching college sports if they had been given a lower figure in the survey – like, say, $5,000 per year. Wilken might be correct. But assumed answers to a survey is pretty weak evidence to support a legal ruling.

She gives some weight to the testimony of Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir, who said, “Where I set the dollar limit, you know, that varies, but it does concern me when we’re talking about six figures, seven figures in some cases.” Muir, however, is far from an independent witness. Stanford is a member of the NCAA. So we’re setting compensation caps because an employer would rather not pay an employee big money? Of course Muir is not comfy; he’s management, and every employer on the planet tries to keep labor costs as low as possible. And by the way, would a six, seven figure paycheck be as concerning to the athlete who actually received it?

Plus, by bringing up baseball to knock down the NCAA, Wilken undermines her own arguments. Yes, free agency showed that players making money would not destroy the sport. In fact, free agents compete in an open market, make millions and millions of dollars – and baseball is still popular. So why wouldn’t college sports still be popular, if the athletes – most of whom would make far, far less than pro baseball players – had the opportunity to maximize their wealth?

Such unanswered questions could be tackled by future plaintiffs – and their lawyers. Wilken, maybe by design, has left grist for more legal challenges to the college sports model. One suit already filed, and likely boosted by the O’Bannon ruling, is an anti-trust claim led by high-profile sports labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, who helped NFL players gain free agency. He’s essentially seeking the same for college players.

The next Ed O’Bannon, now’s your time.

TIME College Sports

Some College Athletes Will Now Get Paid—a Little

Cabrinni Goncalvesof the Maine Black Bears tackles Trevor Siemianof the Northwestern Wildcats during their college football game at Ryan Field on September 21, 2013 in Evanston, Illinois.
Cabrinni Goncalvesof the Maine Black Bears tackles Trevor Siemianof the Northwestern Wildcats during their college football game at Ryan Field on September 21, 2013 in Evanston, Illinois. John Gress—Getty Images

Power conferences gain autonomy to make own rules, which will include cash stipends for athletes

Some colleges are going to pay athletes.

The NCAA voted Thursday to allow 65 teams from the so-called Big 5 power conferences—the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC, plus Notre Dame, a football independent that is now a member of the ACC in other sports—to make their own rules. These conferences will to offer their athletes not only a scholarship, but the full cost of attendance: money for extras like food, clothing, the occasional trip to the movie theater and more. Depending on the school, this could amount to athletes receiving an additional $2,000 to $5,000. With further autonomy, these schools will also ease restrictions on contact between athletes and agents, and be able to do things like pay for post-season travel for the families of athletes and invest more money in athletic health care coverage.

The move in many ways reflects an economic reality. These conferences drive the most interest in college sports: Between 2003 and 2012, for example, annual football revenues for teams now in SEC jumped 91%, to $759.9 million. The college football playoff, which starts this season, and the continuing expansion of lucrative conference television networks—the SEC Network debuts on August 14—will continue to pump more riches into college sports. NCAA leaders are recognizing that in this environment, the long-criticized inequity of college sports—that none of this additional money flows into the pockets of the talent actually doing the core work, the athletes—is no longer tenable.

“It’s important for the student-athletes and their welfare,” Ken Starr, president and chancellor of Baylor University, said of the vote. “There are things that we would like to do, and we need to be empowered to do those things.”

While the vote is historic in nature, college sports critics contend it doesn’t go far enough.

“I hope it’s the first step towards players being able to negotiate their own working conditions,” said Richard Southhall, director of the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. “The crumbs are more nutritious than they used to be, but they’re still crumbs.”

The move falls short of giving athletes in the high-revenue sports full salaries, or allowing them to capture their true worth on the open market. To college leaders, such reform would dredge up the dreaded E-word. Athletes would serve as employees, which administrators have determined is incompatible with education.

“If you’re an athlete, going from $0 to $3,500, mathematically, is infinitely better,” said Andy Schwarz, an economist who has done work on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon anti-trust case, in which the former UCLA hoops star and other athletes are challenging the rights of schools to profit off their name, image and likeness without compensating them. “But qualitatively, it still misses the point entirely.”

A decision in the O’Bannon case, which is pending, and a successful effort by Northwestern football players to form a union could accelerate the destruction of the NCAA’s so-called “amateurism” model. But for other critics of the NCAA’s vote, that would be a disaster. To them, autonomy for Big 5 conferences, and cost of attendance subsidies, already goes too far. It will destroy competitive balance in college sports, as the extra benefits offered by the big schools will allow them to attract even more top talent, leaving schools outside these conferences helpless. “The NCAA cannot fall prey to phony arguments about student welfare when the real goal of some of these so-called reformers is create a plutocracy,” Boise State president Bob Kustra wrote in statement in May, “that serves no useful purpose in American higher education.”

Stipends for athletes, however, won’t destroy college sports. Competitive balance doesn’t really exist in college sports now, as almost all of the top high school players are already going to the top schools. In a 2011 paper entitled “Excuses, Not Reasons: 13 Myths About (Not) Paying College Athletes,” Schwarz studied 10 years worth of recruiting data and found that 99% of the high school football players listed as Top 100 prospects on Rivals.com went to power conference schools and Notre Dame. And despite this trend, football teams like Northern Illinois, and basketball teams like Wichita St., have cracked the top of the national rankings, because, as West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck puts it, “recruiting is an art, not a science.” Plenty of talented players are overlooked by big schools, and will continue to be overlooked by big schools, even though players at top conferences are receiving a few thousands dollars extra in stipends. At lower schools, plenty of players blossom into pros, and will continue to blossom into pros, even though their Big 5 rivals are receiving some cash.

Sure, a few players on the margin may choose to possibly sit on the bench at a big conference school, rather than star at the lower levels, because of the extra benefits. But all talent won’t flow upwards, because of simple supply and demand. Schools offer a finite amount of athletic scholarships; every player who wants to play basketball at Duke can’t go to Duke. So they’ll go to, say, Lehigh. And what can happen? We’ll still have charming upsets. If Lehigh could knock off the hyped stars from Duke during the 2011 NCAA tournament, they could still beat them tomorrow, even if the Duke players receive more money.

“Having a little bit of cash doesn’t spoil the entire amateur status,” Luck said.

TIME College Sports

NCAA To Pay Athletes $20 Million in Dispute Over Video Game Images

Sam Keller in Nebraska v Missouri
Sam Keller, then #9 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, plays in a game against Missouri in 2007 in Columbia, Missouri. G. Newman Lowrance—Getty Images

A victory for players seeking a share of the profits from lucrative college sports

The NCAA said it reached a settlement Monday to pay $20 million to former and current student-athletes who claim the organization used the their names, images and likenesses in video games without permission or compensation.

This settlement adds to the $40 million settlement recently reached with Electronic Arts, which distributed the video games in question, and ends the case, which was originally filed by former Arizona State and University of Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller.

The case has drawn national attention for the potential precedent it could set. If approved by the judge, the settlement would mark the first time the NCAA is paying student-athletes for rights related to their play.

“We’ve long held through our various cases against the NCAA that the student-athlete is treated poorly in everything from scholarships to safety. This settlement is a step toward equity and fairness for them,” said Steve Berman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The NCAA has had rules in place that prevent athletes from receiving compensation other than their scholarships. The NCAA says it does not consider the settlement “pay for performance” and does not plan to change its rules. But debate over whether athletes should share in the returns of lucrative college sports has been pitched in recent years.

In this case, Keller and other student-athletes were included in EA’s NCAA Football, Basketball and March Madness video game series. The players claimed the NCAA and EA conspired to permit the use of NCAA players for their own monetary gain without compensating the players. In contrast, EA paid professional NFL players almost $35 million each year for the use of names and likenesses in NFL games.

“Anyone—even a student-athlete playing under scholarship—should not be exploited for profit, especially by the organization that vowed to prevent the athlete from exploitation,” Berman said.

The student-athletes who will now receive compensation include certain Division I men’s basketball and football players from the years the games were sold, according to the NCAA. The NCAA will issue a “blanket eligibility waiver” for any student-athletes currently enrolled who receive funds from the settlement so the players will not be in violation of NCAA rules prohibiting further compensation.

“The collegiate model of sports provides hundreds of thousands of student-athletes with unmatched opportunities for education, growth, mentoring, and future success,” said Donald Remy, an NCAA lawyer.

This settlement comes as another high-profile case—known as the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit—is beginning its trial. That class-action suit seeks to stop the NCAA from having rules preventing student-athletes from being compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses in video games or broadcasts. While the NCAA continues to fight the O’Bannon lawsuit, it expects the Keller settlements to be approved by the court before March 2015, when the case was originally scheduled for trial.

TIME Sports

College Woos Star High School Quarterback By Writing A Letter To His Cat

Meow.

College sports are serious business. That’s why the genius football recruiters over at Rice University successfully wooed a star high school quarterback, J.T. Granato, by writing a recruiting letter to his cat.

The note—addressed to “Kitty Granato”—read: “Please help us to get J.T. to choose Rice,” adding, “[p]aw me in case you have any questions.”

TIME Football

Heisman Trophy Winner Jameis Winston Cited for Shoplifting

Jameis Winston Heisman Shoplifting
Jameis Winston, quarterback of the Florida State Seminoles, speaks to the media during a press conference after the 2013 Heisman Trophy Presentation at the Marriott Marquis on Dec. 14, 2013 in New York City. Jeff Zelevansky—Getty Images

The Florida State University quarterback allegedly stole $32.72 worth of seafood from a local Publix

Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida State University, was suspended from the school’s baseball team Wednesday after being issued a citation for shoplifting seafood.

Winston, who plays both football and baseball for FSU, was not arrested for the incident, but was instead issued an adult civil citation. USA Today reports the citation requires 20 hours of community service.

“As a result of his citation last night, we are suspending Jameis Winston from the baseball team,” said FSU Baseball Coach Mike Martin said in a statement. “I am confident he will complete his community service obligation and the situation will be resolved soon.”

Florida State University’s football coach Jimbo Fisher, said, ““I fully support Coach Martin’s decision and will also make sure that Jameis meets all obligations, which I know he will.” The redshirt sophomore is known chiefly for his prowess on the football field, having led the team to a BCS national championship in 2014, but plays for the school’s baseball team out of season.

On Tuesday, Winston was allegedly caught stealing $32.72 worth of crab legs and crawfish from a Florida Publix grocery store, according to CBS12 News. Winston told local officers that he forgot to pay for the seafood after placing an order at the seafood counter.

The shoplifting incident is only the latest trouble for the student. Winston was accused of raping an FSU freshman in late 2012, though he wasn’t identified as her attacker until January 2013. The Department of Education is investigating the school’s handling of the rape accusations under the Title IX amendment of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX requires schools to respond swiftly to any and all allegations of rape. Prosecutors found there was insufficient evidence to bring charges, and Winston has denied any wrongdoing.

Florida State’s discipline policy allows students with civil citations to practice and compete in athletic events, but the final decision rests with the team’s head coach.

 

TIME College Sports

NCAA Hypocrisy Strikes Again: Michigan Star Forced To Go Pro

A "student-athlete" who wanted to stay in school now doesn't have that option

If you can stand 30 seconds of soft torture, please watch this advertisement from the NCAA:

The NCAA has been running such propaganda since last year, during big events like the March Madness basketball games. They’ve always bothered me, since they’re nonsensical. How exactly is bureaucratic sports organization headquartered in Indianapolis a “spirit-squad” for college athletes going on job interviews? I was an NCAA athlete back in the late 1990s. Where were my cheerleaders when I bombed several inquisitions? Well, that was a long time ago. So maybe this pom-pom thing is a new development.

Or is this some kind of metaphorical message? Since you played college sports, and learned teamwork and confidence and other qualities, you’ll be more prepared for real-life events like a job interview? Yeah, OK, whatever. A good ad should require no decoding.

But the key, really, is the end of the ad, when the narrator says that the NCAA is “always there for student-athletes.” We’ve got your back, the NCAA is saying. That’s a bold, strong proclamation.

Too bad it’s not true.

Consider the case of Michigan basketball star Mitch McGary. During the Wolverines’ run to the title game in 2013, the then-freshman emerged as a force, averaging 16 points and 11.6 rebounds in the NCAA tournament before Michigan fell to Louisville in the final. He had shed twenty pounds during the season, and had a kind of goofy, lovable-lug way about him. One of his teammates told a story: While heading to a shootaround in New York City before a game, everyone noticed that McGary wasn’t on the team bus. Turns out he got stuck in a hotel elevator, which gave the team more reason to razzle the rookie: His weight caused it to stop.

But McGary was able to laugh at himself, too. He was just a college kid. And despite his NBA potential, McGary seriously considered remaining in college next year. NCAA, dispatch the spirit squad. The whole point is for these “student-athletes” to stay in school, right?. Instead, McGary is off to the NBA, against his will, thanks to the draconian policies of the NCAA itself.

A back injury limited McGary to just eight games this season. He missed the NCAA tournament. After Kentucky knocked Michigan out of the tournament in the Elite 8, writes Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports: “McGary was contemplating whether to enter the NBA draft or return for his junior season. Coming back would allow him to prove his back was fine and continue enjoying life in Ann Arbor. His play could bolster his NBA draft stock. It was an attractive option.”

But then he got some news: McGary had failed a marijuana drug test during the tournament. And even though he did not play during any of the games, under NCAA rules, he would have to miss all of next season. As Wetzel explains, if Michigan had administered the test during the regular season, and McGary tested positive, he probably would have missed three games under Michigan’s punishment. But since the NCAA takes over the testing during the tournament, McGary is subject to the NCAA penalty: a full-year ban for a first-time offender. For using a recreational drug growing more legal and accepted by the day.

The NCAA denied Michigan’s appeal. But then, right after reaffirming McGary’s one-year ban, the NCAA itself changed the punishment for future first-time offenders, reducing it from a one-year ban to a half-season ban. “Street drugs are not performance-enhancing in nature, and this change will encourage schools to provide student-athletes the necessary rehabilitation,” the NCAA said in a statement. But the new policy goes into effect on Aug. 1. And the NCAA declined to apply the new standard to McGary.

The NCAA: “We’re always there for student-athletes.”

Sure.

In his interview with Wetzel, McGary took responsibility for his mistake. He smoked marijuana while hanging out with friends in March—usually, he says, he turns it down. He had passed every other drug test Michigan gave him over two years. McGary may have gone to the NBA regardless of this incident. But what should have been a minor, embarrassing suspension for next season turned into a ridiculous one-year ban, and left him no choice.

The NCAA: “We’re always there for student-athletes.”

So if the NCAA refuses to apply common sense to its enforcement system, the least it can do is stop running those ads. Because they’re blatantly hypocritical. And I’d rather not throw a shoe at my television.

TIME Business of Sports

These March Madness Tickets Are Going for a Tiny Fraction of What They Should

College students can buy tickets for this weekend’s NCAA March Madness Final Four in Arlington, Texas, for just $40 apiece, a tiny fraction of the average seat price.

Will students turn around and flip their seats for profits of four, five, perhaps even ten or twenty times what they paid? Well, surely some will be tempted to do just that. After all, these are kids who will soon join the throngs that collectively owe $1 trillion in student loans. But it looks like the entrepreneurial students out there eager to make some cash on the secondary ticket market won’t be able to cash in.

The ticket sales operation for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, one of the four teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, spell out a long list of rules and requirements for those seeking to purchase Final Four seats at the student rate. “Students may only purchase one Final Four ticket,” is the first policy listed. And this one is the rule that makes it all but impossible for students hoping to sell their seats:

The credit card used to purchase tickets must be presented by the purchasing student to gain admission to AT&T Stadium, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. A credit card can only be used to purchase one student ticket, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Students will also be required to present their WISCARD to gain admission into AT&T Stadium

The rules are the same for students at the three other schools in the Final Four, the University of Florida, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Kentucky. Students who are eligible to purchase seats at the $40 rate should have already received emails explaining how to proceed, and there’s a good chance all of the $40 tickets will be snatched up by Monday afternoon, if not sooner. For everyone else, the NCAA’s sales partner offers a host of pricey options, as do the universities, including travel packages running over $1,000 per person (sometimes not including tickets) and ticket packages for the upcoming semifinal and final game starting at $300, plus a fee of $10 or $15 per ticket. (Also available, curiously: foldable chairs used by UConn during the tournament for $150 apiece.)

Still, the $300 price for tickets is cheap compared to the going rate on the secondary market. The resale and ticket information site TiqIQ.com released data on Sunday indicating that the average price for “all sessions” tickets (entrance for both semifinal games on Saturday) was $1,367.55.

Tickets for the championship game on Monday night are cheaper, averaging $614 of late, with the cheapest “get-in” price going for $118, though of course at this point it’s impossible to know which teams will be playing in the game. As with most sporting events, it appears wise to wait to buy, as it’s expected prices will go down as game day nears. For the last three NCAA championship games, the average ticket price wound up under $500, and the cheap seats sold for under $100, according to TiqIQ.

TIME College Sports

College Athletes Win Right To Unionize

The labor board ruling that Northwestern football players can join a union is a victory for the National College Players Association but a blow for the NCAA

Football players at Northwestern University were awarded the right Wednesday to be considered legal employees and to join a labor union, in a ruling that could have wide-reaching implications for college athletes around the nation.

The announcement by the National Labor Relations Board is a victory for the National College Players Association, which petitioned the NLRB in January for the right to unionize. The player’s association has argued that colleges and the NCAA profit handsomely from student athletics, while imposing rules that prevent student athletes from benefiting financially from their own success, or receiving benefits like workers compensation or the promise that they’ll keep scholarships if they’re injured on the field. Being part of a labor union, they argue, will give student athletes a way to represent their own interests and negotiate for a more equitable share in their successes.

The NCAA has fought efforts to label student athletes employees for decades. “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education,” the NCAA said in a statement released after players filed a petition with the NLRB in January. “Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.”

The NLRB ruling applies only to Northwestern. The NCAA has appealed the decision.

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