Stallworth ruling by NCAA makes the organization look quite two-faced

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
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.

In 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 eligibility.

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).

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