Will Wisconsin Sever Ties with Adidas?

Author: Tyler Jamieson

A couple of weeks ago Cornell announced it was severing ties with Adidas over its labor practices.  Now it appears Wisconsin is looking to be next in line to do so, and Wisconsin is willing to put its money where its mouth is for the cause.

Wisconsin’s current deal with Adidas runs through 2016 and is worth approximately $2.5 million annually. The University also receives licensing royalties from Adidas that have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars for need-based scholarships for students outside of athletics.  However, the University is willing to sacrifice all that for its stance against sweatshop abuses in licensed-apparel manufacturing.

At issue is an Indonesian factory that was shut down by an Adidas subcontractor.  Over 2,800 factory workers were owed $3.2 million.  A small part of the factory produced Adidas apparel and some of that apparel was found to have Wisconsin logos on them.  Other companies such as Nike and the Dallas Cowboys, who presumably had items that were manufactured there, have provided financial relief for factory workers, but to date Adidas has not done so and factory workers are still owed $1.8 million.

Is Wisconsin’s cause a noble one?  Critics of the NCAA aren’t so sure.  It’s not uncommon to hear the term “slave labor” tossed around when referring to NCAA athletes.  Is it hypocritical for a big-time university like Wisconsin to take a stance on labor wages in the manufacturing of their apparel when it can be argued their returning 1st team All American and Heisman trophy finalist running back, who led the team to a Rose Bowl berth last season, is grossly under-compensated?

To its credit Wisconsin is consistent with its belief. They pride themselves on being at the forefront of aiming to stop labor abuse in licensed-apparel manufacturing and they have the history to prove it.  This isn’t the first, second, or even third time they have ended license and apparel contracts over labor practice disputes.  In 2008, the University ended its license agreement with New Era over labor practices.  In 2009, the University ended its relationship with Russell over a closure of a factory in Honduras where it was alleged the factory was shut down as a hostile response to workers who were threatening to unionize.  In 2010, Wisconsin ended its licensing agreement with Nike due to a similar circumstance as Adidas – a Nike subcontractor closed 2 factories and was alleged to have owed workers approximately $2 million in severance pay.

For now, Wisconsin is keeping tight-lipped on the dispute with Adidas due to pending litigation.  Both sides agreed to mediation back in February, and after being unable to find a resolution the Wisconsin Board of Regents put the case in the hands of a court to decide if Adidas has met the Labor Code of Conduct term of their contract.  Should be interesting to see the outcome of this case and to see if other schools will follow Wisconsin’s lead.

Study Shows Athletic Success Impacts Academics Positively

A recent article in the Journal of Sports Economics co-authored by economists Devin and Jaren Pope has confirmed what many anecdotally believed to be true:  success in Division I men’s basketball or FBS football leads to increased interest from potential high school applicants.  The article, titled “Understanding College Application Decisions: Why College Sports Success Matters”, shows that between 1991 and 2001 the number of SAT scores sent by high school students increased for a 1-2 year period after a school’s men’s basketball team made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament or its football team ended the season in the AP Top 20.  Where students sent SAT scores is used as a proxy for where students actually sent applications.

And, as would be expected, the number of SAT scores received was higher for the schools which were most successful in the basketball tournament or finished higher in the AP football poll.  Schools received 2.2% more SAT scores when their men’s basketball teams made the NCAA tournament, 3.8% more if it made the Sweet 16, 5.7% more if it made the Final Four, and 9% more if it won the national championship.  A top 20 finish for the football team resulted in a 2% increase, a top 10 finish resulted in a 5.2% increase, and a (pre-BCS) national championship resulted in an 11% increase.

Besides proving that successful men’s basketball and football programs do play a part in some high school student’s college decisions, the article bring up another issue:  the allure of maintaining a Division I men’s basketball program and/or a FBS football program.  Most schools are looking for ways to increase their applicant pool and to expand their brand.  If a school is not in Division I for basketball or FBS in football, it is missing out on one of the ways to do these things.

In fact, there may not be an easier way for a school looking to grow enrollment and its brand than through success in men’s basketball and football.  This is demonstrated by one of the most amazing statistics in the Pope’s article: the effect of making it to the Final Four in basketball or the top ten in football is approximately equivalent to the effect of a school improving its academic rank by half (e.g. 100th to 50th or 50th to 25th)!  I have no idea how hard it is for a school to improve its academic rank by half, but I have to assume it’s a difficult task.  In many cases, it may be easier for a school to make its way into the top ten in FBS football than to improve its academic rank by half.

Let’s look at Old Dominion University as an example.  After a 68 year hiatus, ODU football took the field again in 2009.  It played as an independent FCS team during its first two seasons.  In 2011, the ODU football team became a full member of the Colonial Athletic Association football conference.  ODU finished that year second in the CAA (regarded as the SEC of FCS football conferences), hosted and won a FCS playoff game, and finished 10th in the final FCS poll.  All of this was accomplished in three seasons.  And it gained ODU entrance into the FBS (ODU will become a member of Conference USA in 2013), where it has the chance of finishing in the AP top ten.

While there is no guarantee that ODU will ever make the top ten in football, its chances of doing so before it improves its academic rank by half seem good.  We can look to Boise State as an example of what is possible.  Boise State moved up to what is now the FBS in 1996.  It first finished in the AP’s top 10 in 2006, when it was ranked number 5 after its memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.[1] Boise has finished in the AP top 10 three times since then (2009, 2010, and 2011).  So, it took Boise 10 years to make its way from FBS newbie to top ten finisher.

Can ODU improve its academic ranking by half in ten years?  Not likely.  In the latest US News rankings ODU received a “Rank Not Published” (RNP) designation in the National Universities category, signifying it resides outside of the top 200.  Let’s be generous and assume that ODU’s rank is 201.[2]  That means it would have to improve its ranking to 100 to see the same type of application bump that comes along with a top ten FBS football finish.  Again, I don’t have any data on how quickly a school can improve its academic ranking, but I have to assume it would take longer than 10 years to move from 201 to 100.  Perhaps the Pope brothers can look into this next.


For a look at how the study could predict multi-million losses for Arkansas thanks to their defeat at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe, check out this piece on ESPN.com by BusinessofCollegeSports.com founder, Kristi Dosh.

[1] Statue of Liberty, anyone?

[2] This bit of generosity is hard for me.  I played basketball at William and Mary, which is in the CAA with ODU.  Let’s just say that the alumni/fan bases aren’t too fond of each other.

College Football on U.S. Hispanic Sports Television: a Bold Brand-Building Effort

Guest author: Oliver Tse

Major Division I college sports returned to U.S. Hispanic sports television for the first time in 15 years on September 1st when FOX Deportes aired the Hawaii at Southern California college football game with Spanish-language commentary.

“We are thrilled to work with the Big 12 and Pac-12, and proud to expand our event portfolio by offering the biggest sports brands that reflect and serve today’s U.S. Latino,” said Vincent Cordero, executive Vice President and General Manager, Fox Deportes.  “U.S. Latinos are the New Face of America, representing the largest minority at our nation’s colleges, with 2.1 million students enrolled. Latinos comprise 74% of the growth in totalU.S.collegiate enrollment since 2010.”

“There are 500,000 more Latinos enrolled in our nation’s 2-year and 4-year colleges compared to African-Americans,” added Cordero. “Furthermore, 3 times as many Latinos are enrolled compared to Asian-Americans.”

FOX Deportes, which has about 20 million subscribers overall, of which about 6 million are Hispanic, is embarking on a brand-building effort with bold alternative programming strategies in an effort to reach out to young male Hispanic TV viewers, particularly in the ages 18-34 and 18-49 demographics, who are looking for something else to watch besides the two traditional staples of Spanish-language sports TV in the U.S. on weekends:  Mexican soccer and boxing.

“We are constantly looking for big brands, both international and majorU.S.sports brands, that provide compelling content to our audience,” said Cordero. “College Football provides a level of competition and enthusiasm plus incredible emotional ties.”

Besides 17 major Division I College Football games (all simulcasts of games shown in English on FOX or FX,  featuring mostly PAC-12 and Big 12 regular season contests plus the Pac-12 and Big Ten Championship games and the Cotton Bowl), FOX Deportes also offers Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Major League Baseball (including the World Series) among its live events.  Starting February 2013, FOX Deportes will add 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, including live coverage of the Daytona 500, to its programming lineup.

To kick off FOX Deportes’ re-entry into majorU.S.college sports (since Pac-10 men’s basketball aired in January-March 1997), FOX Deportes has already aired 3 half-hour programs to introduce Spanish-speaking viewers to the history, the rules, and the culture of college football.

The College Football on FOX Deportes episodes, which aired on Saturdays at 9pm ET in August, were fast-paced with slick production values viewers would expect from FOX Sports Media Group.  Both the Big 12 and the Pac-12 were featured prominently.

“The Big 12 is proud of its long-standing partnership with FOX Sports Media Group, and we welcome the opportunity this increased exposure will have in expanding and energizing the fan base of Big 12 football,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “Our member institutions will benefit from the exposure FOX Deportes will provide their football programs and universities to this tremendously significant demographic nationwide.”

“We are pleased that FOX Deportes will be showcasing our exciting brand of Pac-12 football this season,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “FOX Deportes is a leader in Spanish-language sports media and offers us a valuable national cable platform that reaches new fans in new places around the country.”

Veteran sportscaster Pablo Alsina (who broadcast in both English and Spanish at bilingual TV networks GOLTV and mun2 before joining FOX Deportes & FOX Soccer inLos Angeles) hosted the half-hour programs, which featured numerous interviews of players and coaches including 3 Spanish-speaking players:  UCLA Offensive Lineman Alberto Cio, Oregon Linebacker Christian “Kiko” Alonso, and Oregon Placekicker Alejandro Maldonado.

Alsina is scheduled to call all 17 college football games on FOX Deportes, with Los Angeles-based bilingual sportscaster Francisco Rivera, who had previously voiced Spanish-language content for the NFL Network, as the analyst.  According to Cordero, Alsina and Rivera will call the 14 regular season games from the studio of FOX Deportes in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, and they are scheduled to call the PAC-12 and Big Ten Championship games as well as the Cotton Bowl from the stadiums.

“Our primary objective and mission is to turn our regular FOX Deportes viewers into college football viewers,” said Cordero. “Our nightly news program Central FOX has been airing segments during the past 3 weeks to prepare our viewers for college football.  We are also cross-promoting college football during our other live events including English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, and Copa Sudamericana.”

“This is not an exercise to shift viewers from English to Spanish,” added Cordero.

Knowing that College Football on FOX Deportes will face stiff competition from Mexican soccer and boxing on most Saturday nights, and many 2nd and 3rd-generation Hispanics in the U.S. prefer to consume television in English instead of Spanish as they blend into mainstream culture, we won’t know how successful college football telecasts on FOX Deportes will be until Nielsen ratings become available.  Regardless of the result, many of us will be watching this bold effort from FOX Sports Media Group with keen interest.


Note: ESPN Deportes announced in May that college football with Spanish-language commentary will be one of several sports that will be streamed at ESPN3.com under the “ESPN Deportes+ por ESPN3” brand this fall.  An ESPN Deportes spokesperson declined to provide additional details for this article.

About the author:  Oliver Tse founded and operated soccerTV.com in 1995-2007 to provide direct marketing services to clients including ESPN, FOX Sports, and GOLTV.  He also founded and operated Oliver Tse Management Group in 2006-2009 to secure poker product endorsement for players appearing at televised World Series of Poker (WSOP), World Poker Tour (WPT), and National Heads-Up Poker Championship events.   Oliver lives in San Francisco and can be reached via LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/olivertse888

Notre Dame and the ACC: A Logical Partnership

Today’s news that Notre Dame is leaving the Big East for the ACC surprised many.  Similar to its arrangement with the Big East, all of Notre Dame’s sports will compete in the ACC, save for its football program which will remain independent.  The one difference from its membership in the Big East, though, is that Notre Dame football will be able to compete in the ACC’s non-BCS bowl games.  Given that the Big East is the only conference of the six BCS AQ conferences that does not have a bowl set aside for its conference champions, this is a significant perk for Notre Dame.  This perk, along with Notre Dame’s financials depict why the school’s transition from the Big East to the ACC is a logical move.

After months of watching the conference realignment carousel turn, there is no question that finances drive schools from one conference to another.  There are several components to the finance issue at play when a school chooses to switch conferences.  First, is how much money the school can bring in from the respective conference.  Second, is how the respective school’s athletic department’s finances stack up against other athletic departments in the conference.

Notre Dame will undoubtedly reap more revenue from ACC membership than it does from its current Big East membership.  The timing of Notre Dame’s decision is arguably not coincidental:  Its current conference is in the midst of a 60-day exclusive TV rights negotiation process with ESPN.  The outcome of those negotiations will shape how lucrative of a new television deal the Big East obtains.  Given that Big East basketball powerhouses Syracuse and Pitt recently defected the conference for the ACC, the conference’s bargaining power has arguably decreased.  Take away Notre Dame on top of that, and the Big East’s bargaining power has dramatically shifted.  In contrast, Notre Dame is joining a conference which in May, negotiated a $3.6 billion year television rights contract through 2026-27.  Prior to Notre Dame’s addition, it was expected that ACC members would capture $17.1 million per year from the television contract.  The addition of Notre Dame, however, will likely increase that figure.  It is likely that the recent television contract contains a term allowing it to be modified upon the addition of a new conference member.  Given Notre Dame’s national popularity, this will likely drive the price of the contract up, and as such, put more money in each ACC school’s pocket.  The realization that it will earn more per year in television revenue as an ACC member than as a Big East member was likely a driving factor in Notre Dame’s decision to move conferences.

As noted above, an athletic department’s financial health is another factor schools take into consideration when moving conferences.  A school must be able to expend and bring in a similar amount of revenue as its competitors in order to remain competitive.  In terms of the ACC, Notre Dame is on similar footing to its competitors.  According to data submitted to the Department of Education, in 2010-11, Notre Dame had the sixth-highest net income of all Division I athletic departments.  That same year, the ACC school with the highest net income was Virginia, whose net income was just over $13 million less than Notre Dame’s.  The control of its budget puts Notre Dame on strong footing as it enters the ACC.

Similarly, Notre Dame’s spending is comparable to ACC members’ spending.  Per data submitted to the Department of Education, in 2010-11, Florida State’s athletic department spent the most of any ACC institution at $86,946,503.00.  While Notre Dame’s expenditures were more than $11 million less than that, the athletic department’s $75,360,209.00 worth of expenses were still sizable.  In fact, Florida State was the only ACC institution that out-spent Notre Dame in 2010-11.

Overall, entering the ACC is a victory for Notre Dame.  First and foremost, it achieved a coup by keeping its independent status in football.  Secondly, it gained access to greater TV revenues by partnering with a conference that is home to a more lucrative television rights deal.  Finally, Notre Dame will be on more equal financial footing with its ACC competitors than it was with other Big East members.



California Proposes Scholarship Extensions for Student-Athletes

Guest author: Mit Winter

A groundbreaking bill known as the Student Athlete Bill of Rights is close to becoming law in California.  The California Senate and Assembly both recently passed the bill and it currently awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.  Brown has not publicly given any indication as to whether he intends to sign it into law.

If Brown does sign the bill, beginning with the 2013-14 school year student athletes at California universities that receive at least $10 million annually from the sale of athletics-based media rights will be entitled to a number of benefits.  The most prominent are as follows:

1) If a student athlete’s athletic scholarship is not renewed due to an incapacitating injury or illness resulting from participation in an intercollegiate sport, the university must provide the student athlete with an equivalent scholarship that, when combined with the athletic scholarship, provides for up to five academic years or until the student athlete graduates, whichever comes first.

2) Scholarship student athletes who are members of teams with a graduation success rate of less than 60%, and have exhausted their athletic eligibility before graduating, must be provided with an equivalent scholarship for up to one year or until the student athlete graduates, whichever is shorter.

One thing to note up front before diving into an analysis of these two provisions (which I call the injury scholarship continuation and graduation scholarship continuation rules):  because the law will only apply to California universities receiving at least $10 million annually from the sale of athletics-based media rights, it will initially only affect USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Cal.  San Diego State may become a member of the $10 million club soon, but that will depend on how well Mike Aresco can sell the new version of Big East football.  No other California universities are currently likely to be affected by the law, but, as we have seen with the realignment frenzy over the past few years, anything can happen.

Now that we know which schools will be affected by the injury scholarship continuation and graduation scholarship continuation rules let’s take a closer look at them.  At first glance, each of the rules makes sense.  Student-athletes at USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Cal play a big part in those schools receiving large media rights checks.  So, it seems fair that student-athletes should continue to receive scholarships after they are injured participating in a sport or if they have not yet graduated when their athletic eligibility is exhausted.

But, when the reach of each rule is considered, much of the revenue generation argument disappears.  Why?  Because the law does not apply only to student-athletes participating in revenue generating sports:  generally football and men’s basketball, with some limited exceptions.

The scholarship continuation rule applies to any student-athlete who received an athletic scholarship.  Using Stanford as an example, this means that scholarship athletes such as men’s and women’s fencers, men’s and women’s gymnasts, men’s wrestlers, and women’s rowers will maintain their athletic scholarships if they are injured while participating in their sport and can no longer compete.[1]  Not that there is anything wrong with this.  But, if the argument is that scholarship student-athletes should continue to receive scholarships after an incapacitating injury because of all the money they generated for their school while competing, the law shouldn’t reach this far.  Fencers, gymnasts, wrestlers, and rowers are not producing revenue for Stanford.

If all of Stanford’s scholarship student athletes are entitled to a scholarship continuation after an injury, why shouldn’t a scholarship football or basketball player at Fresno State be entitled to that benefit as well?  Those student athletes are generating some revenue for Fresno State.  Again, there is nothing wrong with providing all scholarship student athletes with scholarship continuations after injuries.  But those who are generating revenue, regardless of school, should have the same rights to a scholarship continuation after an injury.

While Stanford will be affected by the injury continuation rule, it won’t have to worry about the graduation continuation rule.  This part of the law only applies to teams that have a graduation success rate below 60%.  The most recent available Graduation Success Rate (GSR) data (2010-11 academic year) shows that all of Stanford’s teams had GSRs well above 60%.

The same cannot be said for Cal, UCLA, and USC. Cal’s men’s basketball team had a GSR of 33% while its football team had a GSR of 54%.  USC’s men’s basketball team had a GSR of 38%.  UCLA’s football team had a GSR of 59%.  So, if they have not already graduated, scholarship members of these teams will be entitled to a continuation of their scholarships for up to one year after their athletic eligibility has expired.  Again, the rule makes sense.  Especially when the student athletes receiving the scholarships are members of revenue generating teams.

What doesn’t make sense is the limitation of the rule to members of teams that have a GSR below 60%.  The intent of the limit appears to be to increase graduation levels for football and men’s basketball, as those two sports generally have lower graduation rates than other sports at most schools.  This is a worthy goal.  But, why should a member of the USC football team not be entitled to a continuation of his scholarship after his athletic eligibility expires when a basketball player is?

The football player likely brings more value to USC than a basketball player.  But, despite the football player’s role in generating a substantial amount of revenue for USC, the football player is not entitled to a scholarship continuation because the program has done a better job of graduating players than the basketball program.  This doesn’t seem fair.  If the goal is to reward members of these teams for their part in generating revenue, then the continuation rule should cover those teams generating a certain amount of revenue, regardless of GSR rates.

To link the injury scholarship and graduation scholarship continuation rules more closely to revenue generation, they could be changed to be team specific as opposed to school specific.  One potential fix would apply the two rules to any team at a California school that generates revenue of at least $2 million.  The actual number isn’t important for this entry.  And there would have to be some discussion about how to calculate how much revenue a specific team generates.  But, amending the bill in this way would reward all of the California student athletes who are generating revenue for their schools.

[1] Question: What types of injuries do fencers get?  Triceps strains from all of the thrusting?  Groin pulls from the quick lunges at your opponent?

The Debate over Stipends for Student Athletes

Guest author: Mit Winter

Division I student-athletes are currently only allowed to receive financial aid based on athletics ability up to the value of their tuition and fees, room and board, and required course-related books.  In October of 2011, the NCAA Board of Directors approved a proposal to allow Division I members to give student-athletes a stipend of up to $2000 on top of the items listed above.  The idea is that the money will help cover the difference between the value of a full athletic scholarship and the actual cost of attending college.  As anyone who has attended college knows, students have everyday expenses that go beyond their tuition and fees, room and board, and books.  Things like laundry, transportation, toothpaste, and clothes (and cheap beer – my preference in college was Natty Light). An athletics scholarship is not allowed to cover these expenses.

But, the stipend proposal was tabled in January after more than 160 schools requested an override. These schools argued that the proposal was too expensive for them, that it would give the wealthier schools another advantage in recruiting, and that it equals “pay for play.”  Despite this opposition, the Board of Directors recently reiterated its support for the stipend proposal.

The activity summarized above brings up two areas of discussion.  1) The proposal itself, and 2) the opposition to the proposal.

First, let’s address the proposal.  While it moves things in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough.  Here’s why:  non-student-athletes can receive merit based scholarships that cover their full cost of attendance.  As one example, the Charles Scholarship at Davidson College includes the recipients’ room and board, tuition and fees, books, a travel allowance that covers three round trip flights to Chicago (it’s a scholarship specifically for students from Chicago), a personal expense allowance, and special study opportunity funds.  Why shouldn’t student-athletes be able to receive scholarships that cover all of these expenses?

One of the usual arguments is that providing student-athletes with athletics-based money for personal expenses equals “pay for play.”  How can that argument be reconciled with the fact that schools are already providing non-athletes with merit-based money for personal and travel expenses?  It can’t be.  When a trombone player receives a full cost of attendance scholarship no one calls that pay for play.  No one complains that Davidson is paying the Charles Scholarship recipients to study.

Another argument that has been made against athletics-based cost of attendance scholarships is that schools will artificially inflate the cost of attendance figures for athletes.  But, federal regulations and NCAA bylaws already prevent this from happening.  Federal regulations only allow certain categories of expenses to be included in the cost of attendance calculation.  And NCAA bylaws mandate that the cost of attendance for student-athletes must be calculated in accordance with the cost of attendance policies and procedures for general students.

Those who argue against athletics-based cost of attendance scholarships also overlook their potential to address a big issue in college sports: third party influence.  It is well-known that agents, runners, and other third parties looking to gain influence with student-athletes often offer them money or other gifts.  Take the recent case ofKansasState’s Jamar Samuels.  Samuels was suspended the day that K-State played Syracuse in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  His crime was accepting $200 from his former AAU coach.  Samuels allegedly needed the money for food.  The suspension forced Samuels to miss the last game of his college career.  Samuels likely would not have needed the money if he had received a full cost of attendance scholarship.

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of transactions like this occurring every year between third-parties and student-athletes.  Taking money from third parties is very tempting to those student-athletes whose families do not have the means to provide them with money for personal expenses.  Full cost of attendance scholarships won’t end third-party influence, but they will help.

Now, let’s go back to the stipend proposal.  The schools opposed to the proposal are generally the Division I members outside of the BCS conferences.  These schools mainly argue that they cannot afford to pay the stipends and, as a result, the schools with wealthier athletic departments will have yet another recruiting advantage.  While the argument does have some merit, the non-BCS schools are making this a bigger issue than it is.

The reason: non-BCS schools are not currently winning recruiting battles with BCS schools.  Even the worst BCS schools usually win in head to head recruiting battles with non-BCS schools.  The BCS schools already have many other recruiting advantages that are more significant than any advantage that would be gained by offering a $2,000 stipend.  Things like history and tradition, media exposure, fan support, facilities, and schedules filled with games against the traditional college basketball and football powers.

A good way to look at this is to assume that the non-BCS schools are the only schools allowed to offer the stipend.  How many student-athletes currently attending a BCS school would have gone to a non-BCS school instead?  Probably not many.  Would Matt Barkley have gone to Fresno State instead of USC?  No.  WouldOklahoma’s third string running back have gone to UTEP?  Not likely.  Would Kansas’ back-up point guard, Naadir Tharpe, have gone to Boston University(near his hometown)?  Negative.

Another thing to keep in mind in this debate is that the stipend proposal is not a novel idea.  NCAA members were allowed to give student-athletes $15 a month for personal expenses until the early 1970’s.  The stipend was eliminated in an attempt to trim the costs of running an athletic department.  But, the enormous media rights contracts that Division I conferences are signing and will sign (I’m looking at you football playoff), will bring in more athletics-based revenue to Division I schools than at any time in the past.  With this new money rolling in, schools should have the option of sharing some of that money with the student-athletes who play a large part in generating it.  The stipend proposal is a good start.  Once the Division I members give the proposal a try they will hopefully continue on to the logical end place:  the ability to award athletic-based cost of attendance scholarships.

Banning Student-Athletes From Social Media: A Potential First Amendment Violation

With college football season underway and college basketball season quickly approaching, stories of coaches and athletics departments limiting or banning student-athletes’ social media usage will become more frequent.  Schools have taken a variety of approaches to address student-athletes’ improper use of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.  Some limit their usage during the season, arguing that such is necessary to ensure their focus upon the season at hand.  Others have implemented various usage rules and have enacted monitoring systems to enforce those rules.  Then there are those that have banned the usage of Facebook and Twitter by student-athletes altogether.

While much has been reported upon this subject, the question remains:  Do policies that outright ban the use of Twitter and Facebook violate the student-athletes’ First Amendment rights?

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution grants five rights, including the freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech is a fundamental personal right that is protected against state action under the Fourteenth Amendment.  As such, in order for a First Amendment violation to exist, a government actor must be infringing upon someone’s freedom of speech.  Therefore, this means that from a constitutional standpoint, public state universities–and not private universities–could potentially found liable for infringing upon student-athletes’ First Amendment rights.

In the realm of First Amendment law, there are several concerns related to state universities altogether banning the use of social media by student-athletes.  Arguably, banning student-athletes from using social media outright amounts to a prior restraint.  A prior restraint is government action that prevents speech before it occurs.  Preventing student-athletes from communicating on Twitter before they do so arguably amounts to a prior restraint.  Courts rarely uphold government action that amounts to a prior restraint.  In order for something amounting to a prior restraint to be upheld by a court, the government (here, the public universities banning social media use by student-athletes) must prove that a societal harm will result absent the prior restraint.  This would likely be difficult for a university to prove.  While a student-athlete’s Twitter usage may likely cause an athletics department many headaches, it is highly unlikely it will cause a societal harm.  Additionally, the school would be required to show that their limitation is narrowly drawn with reasonable and definite standards.  Cutting the student-athlete off from the two communication methods used the most by his generation arguably is not a narrowly drawn limitation.

The issue, though, is that in order for a government action to be overturned as a prior restraint, is that an injunction to the action must be promptly sought.  Thus, student-athletes who have been banned from social media usage would be required to seek an injunction to the restraint promptly.  To date, no student-athlete has challenged his school’s banning his social media usage in the courts.  Therefore, in order for student-athletes to gain ground against these bans on the First Amendment front, a student-athlete will need to seek an injunction the next time an athletics department bans social media usage.  Thereafter, the court would have to give a prompt and final determination on the validity of the restraint.  For the reasons set forth above, it is likely that a court would not allow a social media ban.

This analysis should cause some concern for athletics departments in public universities who have instituted outright bans of social media usage by their student-athletes.  If the athletics departments have banned social media usage without having in place a contract with the student-athlete waiving their right to use social media, there is a strong likelihood that their social media policy is unconstitutional.  As such, public schools seeking to ban social media usage should attempt to enter into contracts with their student-athletes whereby the student-athlete waives their right for the consideration of participating in athletics on the campus.  If the school is unable to do this, the school should not institute an outright ban of social media usage.  Rather, the school should adopt narrow social media usage policies that allow student-athletes to use the communication medium in a way that does not damage the school’s reputation.

Student-Athlete Censorship at Two Big Time Schools

Ever since social media became popular, and the number of users of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter skyrocketed, people have always been warned to be cautious of how they present themselves online. High school students often change their last names so that college admissions counselors can’t find them and college students often deactivate their accounts during the job-hunting process. Additionally, those smart enough to ensure that their social media presence is spotless avoid posting any racy photos or any stories describing their weekend shenanigans. However, it has not been common for authorities to outwardly prevent someone from doing these things if they so choose.  Yet recent developments prove that this censorship of social media may soon become an increasing trend.

This past summer, the International Olympic Committee came up with a whole list of guidelines for athletes to follow when posting Tweets or Facebook posts. In an attempt to preserve the sanctity of the Olympics and its name, many of the guidelines seemed harmless, but others, such as the ban against promoting one’s sponsors (if they weren’t official sponsors of the Olympics) caused resentment among many athletes. To be reminded of this, check out this story: American athletes lead revolt against IOC ban on social media use to promote sponsors.

This censorship trend has since moved into the realm of college sports, specifically two schools in the state of Kentucky. According to this article posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky are banning their student athletes from using upwards of 400 different words on Twitter. Though most of them are the names of various sports agents, the remaining terms tend to be those associated with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. If these words are used by the student-athletes, the image of “Big Brother is Watching” comes to mind, since coaches will be alerted to this through special monitoring software.

Now, I’m all for preserving one’s reputation and wanting to present oneself in the best light possible, but has this ban taken it a step too far? How about the monitoring software – are college sports becoming Orwellian? Maybe that’s over-thinking it a little, but isn’t there any other way to ensure the dignity of one’s school and program without infringing on First Amendment rights and banning student-athletes from using certain words? I understand that in theory, athletes should know themselves that certain words should not be used in their Tweets but in reality, this does not always happen. So what’s the best solution? Let us know what you think below!