By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital
February 10, 2002
Perhaps it was out of deference to those friends of mine who are good people
and work at Tennessee and other NCAA member institutions that I did not write
about the immorality of the NCAA during this past bowl season. Or perhaps,
I was waiting for the NCAA to show it true colors in the Dante Stallworth
situation. The NCAA proved itself to be more concerned with protecting its
cheap, non-mobile workforce than the welfare of any student-athlete.
January, Mr. Stallworth, a junior on the University of Tennessee football team,
informed the NFL that he intended to make himself eligible for the NFL draft
this spring. Approximately three hours later, he told the NFL that he had
changed his mind and wanted to return to UT for his final year of
The NCAA said no.
One of the goals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association is to
“[p]rotect student-athletes through standards of fairness and integrity.”
What a joke.
The NCAA treats athletes as amateur students when it suits its purpose – such
as prohibiting any payments to the athletes. But when the NCAA wants to
prevent one individual from toying with the idea of getting paid for his
services, the organization invokes strict contract interpretations. The
NCAA should not be allowed to have it both ways.
Are the football players employees or not? If scholarship athletes are
amateur students who participate in athletics as a privilege and augmentation to
their college experience (a noble argument), then the NCAA has no moral basis to
prevent a student from declaring himself draft eligible and then returning to
college. If it is purely amateur activity, how can the NCAA impose
employment restrictions on the student?
The NCAA requires high school students to get their parents to sign contracts
on their behalf when they agree to play a scholarship sport at an NCAA
institution. These high school students enter these agreements when they
are minors. The school is obligated to the student for only one year, but the
student is obligated for his entire college career. The agreement
prohibits the student from transferring to another school (under the threat of
severe penalties). The paid adult employees of these institutions change
jobs pretty freely – even though these paid employees often have specific
employment agreements and lucrative contracts that prohibit such job
changes. For enough money, a coach can go from ol’ State U to State
Tech. But his quarterback can’t.
In a similar case in 1988, the NCAA restored a Michigan State player’s senior
year of eligibility after assessing a three game penalty. What purpose did
the penalty serve? Did it make the player more amateur? Did it
somehow make the game more pure? No, it merely served as a warning to
other athletes who might consider similar acts. A three game suspension
sounds like something the NFL – an admitted business – might invoke. Not a
supposed amateur operation like the NCAA. In explaining the NCAA’s
decision in 1988, then assistant director of eligibility, Janet Justus,
explained that the player in question “showed some remorse,” influencing their
decision to restore 75 percent of the player’s senior year eligibility.
He showed some remorse? Are these NCAA officials in charge of looking
into the heart of these athletes and judging their status of forgiveness?
Some people argue that Stallworth made a decision and should have to live
with it. If those are the rules, that’s fine; but that sounds like an
employment situation. If the NCAA is going to hold to the notion that
student athletes are amateurs engaged in an extracurricular activity, someone
will eventually mount a court challenge to onerous “employment-type” issues like
draft status. And they will challenge it in a real court with real judges
who rely on the law to make rulings. You know, the same types of judges
who found the NCAA guilty of illegal employment collusion when it created a
“restricted earnings” coaching position in the 1990s.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a
Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article
originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).