On May 19th, the Drake Group hosted a panel discussion titled “Giving College Athletes the Right to Unionize.” An impressive panel of commentators—Bob Costas, Michael Hausfeld, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Andy Zimbalist (moderator), and Kaiya McCollough—shared their thoughts on athletes as employees and the possibility of collective bargaining through the lens of Sen. Murphy’s federal bill, the College Right to Organize Act. This episode analyzes the panel discussion, emphasizing (1) the difficulties athletes face in having their voices heard and valued in the regulation and business model of college sports.; and (2) the ease with which false status quo narratives marginalize athletes’ voices.

Giving College Athletes the Right to Unionize” (Drake Group, 5/19/22)

Last week the California Senate and NJ Democrat Senator Cory Booker buried the only two revenue-sharing proposals in the state or federal legislative landscape. The California bill, the “College Athlete Race and Gender Equity Act,” did not survive banishment to the Appropriation Committee’s “suspense file” (discussed in Episodes 113 and 117). The bill was designed to remedy the race-based financial exploitation of African American athletes in football and men’s basketball. The quiet death of the California bill is an inflection point in profit athletes’ attempts to have their true value to the college sports enterprise recognized tangibly. At the same time, in a Drake Group symposium on the integrity of college sports, Sen Booker disclosed the removal of the revenue-sharing provisions of the “Athletes’ Bill of Rights” legislation introduced in the Senate in 2020. In its place will be a provision that provides “clarity” and “strength” to existing Title IX and gender equity laws and policies. This episode analyzes the demise of revenue-sharing and false choice between the interests of Black profit athletes in football and men’s basketball on the one hand and women’s and “Olympic” sports athletes on the other. This propagandized false choice appears to be a defining criterion in the content of any federal legislation under the rubric of “athletes’ rights.”
Nick Saban’s comments on the state of college sports regulation will no doubt be remembered more for the reaction they drew from Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher than for what they say about the future of college sports. This was textbook Saban. Grab headlines with provocative claims, then weave in the actual message. Saban’s claims that Texas A&M and Jacksonville State were “buying” players—and Fisher’s entertaining rant in response—are a sportswriter’s dream. This gift will keep giving until the teams square off in Tuscaloosa in October. But Saban’s comments are worth analyzing for a much different reason. In his portrayal of the chaotic state of college sports regulation, he was a human talking point for tired—and often false—narratives that justify protective federal legislation that would effectively end the athletes’ rights movement. Saban’s megaphone is second to none in college sports. When he speaks, people listen. Saban is a far more potent lobbying force than the army of paid lobbyists working on behalf of the NCAA and the Power 5 conferences, including the SEC. This episode examines Saban’s comments in the context of the NCAA/Power 5 lobbying and public relations war against revenue-producing athletes.

College sports now exist in a vacuum of leadership, self-regulation, and values-based messaging. The NCAA national office is collapsing under the weight of its arrogance and incompetence, while the Power 5—through the Transformation Committee—is beginning to sound more like Mark Emmert and the worn-out NCAA propaganda machine. The regulatory crisis is particularly acute in the Power 5’s attempts to reign in what they perceive as an out-of-control name, image, and likeness market. The NIL “guidance” memo released by the Division I Board of Directors on May 9th is a testament to the impotence of the NCAA and Power 5 as enforcers of college sports’ most sacred values—no pay for play and no recruiting inducements. This episode analyzes the state of college sports regulation, emphasizing infractions and enforcement, including a historical perspective on NCAA regulatory authorities.