Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, second from left, speaks while College Athletes Players Association President Ramogi Huma left, United Steelworkers union official Tim Waters, second from right, and Steelworkers President Leo Gerard listen during a news conference in Chicago, Tuesday, Jan., 28, 2014. Football players at Northwestern University are forming what they say is a first-of-its-kind union for college athletes. Wildcat quarterback Kain Coulter joined union leaders at the press conference to announce the creation of the College Athletes Players Association.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, second from left, speaks while College Athletes Players Association President Ramogi Huma left, United Steelworkers union official Tim Waters, second from right, and Steelworkers President Leo Gerard listen during a news conference in Chicago, Tuesday, Jan., 28, 2014. Football players at Northwestern University are forming what they say is a first-of-its-kind union for college athletes. Wildcat quarterback Kain Coulter joined union leaders at the press conference to announce the creation of the College Athletes Players Association.

For years, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has set the rules and exerted total control over college athletes. But last week, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players are employees, and can form a union and collectively bargain. The NLRB found that these scholarship athletes spent 40 to 50 hours each week on football and were not primarily students. Supporters of the decision say it’s a first step in allowing college players to have a say in key decisions made about them. Critics say it sets up a dangerous precedent that would threaten the existence of non-revenue sports. Diane and a panel of experts discuss the Northwestern decision and what it could mean for the future of college sports.

Guests

  • Bruce Fein principal, The Lichfield Group; author of "Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy."
  • Dr. Thomas Powell president, Mt. St. Mary's University
  • Paul Hewitt head men's basketball coach, George Mason University
  • Joe Nocera opinion columnist, The New York Times
  • Christine Brennan national sports columnist, USA Today and on-air sports contributor, ABC News; author of "Best Seat in the House: A Father, A Daughter, A Journey Through Sports"

Transcript

  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A regional office of the NLRB ruled last week that Northwestern University football players are employees and can join a union. The university says it will appeal. Supporters of the decision say it's a first step toward leveling the playing field between athletes and their coaches and universities who make millions of dollars from the games they play.

  • 10:07:24

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the Northwestern decision and what it could mean for the future of college sports: Bruce Fein of the Litchfield Group, Christine Brennan of USA Today. Joining us from the NPR bureau in New York City, Joe Nocera of The New York Times. I do invite your questions and comments. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

  • 10:08:04

    MS. CHRISTINE BRENNANWell, thank you. It's great to be here.

  • 10:08:06

    MR. BRUCE FEINThank you, Diane. I assume you brought our rosy-fingered dawn after a prolonged winter time.

  • 10:08:12

    REHMOh, I hope I did. And, Joe Nocera...

  • 10:08:14

    MR. JOE NOCERAGood to be here.

  • 10:08:15

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:08:16

    NOCERAGood to be here this morning.

  • 10:08:16

    REHMNow, let me start with you, Bruce Fein. How did this case come about? Who brought it and why?

  • 10:08:26

    FEINThe National Labor Relations Act, the federal statute, authorizes employees in industries that affect interstate commerce to seek representation through unions and to negotiate collective bargaining agreements, and an organization that purports to represent college football players who attend private universities because public universities are governed by a different statutory regime initiated an action seeking to represent the football players at Northwestern University.

  • 10:09:01

    FEINThe major issue was whether the football players were employees within the meaning of the National Labor relations Act and the regional board -- it's one director there -- concluded that they were, basically reasoning that the details of their day-to-day life were largely controlled by the college football coaches and the university that hired the coaches regarding the times where they had to appear, practicing 50, 60 hours or playing per week, being told when they could appear in public, when they could not, those sorts of things and the -- like, they were being paid through the scholarship program.

  • 10:09:47

    FEINThe enterprise, if you will, made tens of millions of dollars for the university, and therefore, being common law employees, they were entitled to seek representation and issued, I think, in 25 or 30 days a vote by the college football players to determine whether they wanted to be represented by this organization.

  • 10:10:04

    REHMChristine Brennan, not only are you a sports writer. You are also an alumni of Northwestern. You sit on its board. How did you react to the decision?

  • 10:10:18

    BRENNANDiane, I'm glad you mentioned that because I am on the board of trustees, about 70-plus members. I'm speaking clearly here as a journalist. And I've spoken and written about this issue for years, but I want to make that crystal clear. I'm not involved at all with this at Northwestern. That said, that's important for me to say that, that I'm here as a journalist, of course.

  • 10:10:39

    BRENNANI was surprised. I don't consider football players or any student athletes on any campus employees. It just doesn't sound right to me. I think that this is a fascinating conversation, Diane, for the nation to have. Issues of concussions are huge, something I've been writing and talking about, so many of us have, of if an athlete, a male or female athlete, on a campus is injured, shouldn't he or she have coverage and have healthcare once they leave the campus?

  • 10:11:13

    BRENNANBecause if the injury occurred while representing the university, also while getting their education and getting the scholarships or partial scholarships they get so that issue, the issue of -- we've heard this a lot over years, as you know and a lot of your listeners know, the idea that a football player or lacrosse player or soccer player, field hockey player can't go to their grandparent's funeral because if the coach gives them some money for the train fare, that's a violation.

  • 10:11:39

    BRENNANSmart people can have conversations and start to work on these issues. To me, unionizing and having this employee-employer relationship, which I don't believe it is at all, that's not the way to go about it.

  • 10:11:51

    REHMHow do you, in your own mind, separate the idea of scholarship and wage?

  • 10:11:58

    BRENNANWell, a scholarship, obviously, is an opportunity to come to the university as -- and there are academic scholarships as well as athletic, of course, too -- it's an agreement, an understanding, you're coming here. You've accepted the scholarship. You know what you're signing up for. No football player on Earth is surprised that they have to play football if they're on a football scholarship or lacrosse or field hockey, whatever.

  • 10:12:22

    BRENNANThat's what you sign up for. I would say that those of us -- as a journalism student, I know that I was going to be on internships, and I knew I'd have to say no to things because I'd be saying yes to other things. So to me, it's a very -- and I had no scholarship when I was, of course, at Northwestern. But bottom line is, to me, there are huge issues, again. I don't see it as being employment. I do not. I see it as being an opportunity to get an education as well.

  • 10:12:45

    REHMJoe Nocera, you wrote about the Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter in a column a few months ago. He was the one who got interest in the idea of joining a union. How did that come about?

  • 10:13:03

    NOCERAWell, it's actually pretty heartwarming in terms of athletes and education. He was in a class where they were learning about unionism and the history of unions and what it requires to be an employee. And he thought to himself, my god, that's what we are. We work 50-hour weeks. Our primary duty here to this university is not to get an education, but it's to raise revenue for this school.

  • 10:13:33

    NOCERAOur scholarships are completely dependent on whether the coach decides to continue it the following year. If we get hurt, we could lose our scholarships. I mean, the rules and regulations are onerous and fierce. And let me just say one other thing, Diane. Whether there winds up being a union or not, the one thing that's missing from the entire system is some group, any group with some power to advocate on behalf of the athletes.

  • 10:14:05

    NOCERAAnd so, you know, from my point of view, it is wonderful that a government agency has ruled that reality is actually reality, that these guys are employees because that is what they are. But having said that, you know, down the line, the issue really isn't whether there's going to be a union or not for athletes. The issue is whether the current system in which -- which Taylor Branch, the great historian, has described as a plantation-like system in the relationship between athletes and universities and athletes and the NCAA should survive in its current form.

  • 10:14:44

    FEINIf I could add, Diane, it's important to recognize that if there's unionization, all it means is there's collective bargaining. All the issues that Christina was raising about having insurance for head injuries or whether you could leave to attend the funeral of a family member despite a game, that's subject to collective bargaining, which the university could agree to or not. So those kinds of issues that she wants to be addressed are precisely what would be addressed by unionization.

  • 10:15:11

    FEINLastly, here, I think, the board was quite correct in recognizing that unionizing the football players would not at all interfere with the educational judgments of Northwestern. After all, these athletes, they spend 50 or 60 hours per week over the course of a year attending to their football demands, as opposed to maybe 20 hours a week in the classroom. It is an intellectual joke to try to suggest they're there primarily for an education. And when you're negotiating over the terms and conditions by which you're playing football, you're not interfering with educational judgments.

  • 10:15:46

    REHMOn the other hand, what about the academic performance of those footballs players, Christine?

  • 10:15:53

    BRENNANNorthwestern has the highest graduation rate of any of the Division I, the big schools or even small schools probably, 97 percent, so I would disagree, Bruce, completely on the fact that the academic pursuits -- the academic pursuits are being met in a beautiful way.

  • 10:16:07

    BRENNANAnd I would say, again, for Kain Colter, for many of these players, the athletes, the opportunity to meet the bank president, the opportunity to get a chance to have internships and if they -- again, depending on their schedules, which would be the same as an engineering student who has to take a year and go somewhere else and can't say yes at that moment, the opportunity for all, especially football players, to get hired, that old boys' network, is so alive and well around the world, around the country.

  • 10:16:32

    BRENNANSo I think there are so many benefits to being a football player as well. Again, I think there are other ways to do -- you mentioned unionization and collective bargaining. Again, I think -- I respect this conversation and you completely, but we really -- union dues, salaries? If we're going to go there, which I'm not saying we're going there, who's paying for all this, workers' comp?

  • 10:16:53

    BRENNANAs you know, people like Jim Delaney, the Big 10 commissioner, said we're going to D-3, idle threat or real? Are we going to just kill the whole thing in the process of having this issue discussed? And that's the question on the table, certainly.

  • 10:17:06

    REHMJoe Nocera.

  • 10:17:08

    NOCERAWell, I really respect Christine a lot, but I just disagree with almost everything she just said. Number one, when you have coaches making $5 million a year, it's silly to say that there's no money to pay players. That's number one. Number two, yes, Northwestern is a outlier. So is Stanford. So is Duke. So are a handful of other schools. But, frankly, if you go to a -- if you're a football player at a lot of schools, the only thing you major in is eligibility.

  • 10:17:33

    NOCERAIn other words, the whole deal is about keeping you eligible, and the courses are baloney in many, many cases. The athletes do not necessarily get an education, much less a good education. And, by the way, in recent years, because of a change in NCAA rules where they no longer count SAT or ACT scores, there's been a lot of emphasis within the athletic academic world on remedial reading because they're taking athletes who absolutely, positively couldn't make it in a normal university setting.

  • 10:18:12

    REHMSo, Joe, you come out in favor of unionization? Or is your position less well defined?

  • 10:18:24

    NOCERAI don't necessarily come out in favor of unionization, per se. I come out in favor of some organization that can negotiate on behalf of players.

  • 10:18:35

    REHMAll right. Joe Nocera of The New York Times. Short break here. We'll be right back.

  • 10:20:00

    REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the decision that the National Labor Relations Board that Northwestern University football players are employees and can form a union. Joining us now from his office in Emmitsburg, Md. is Dr. Thomas Powell. He's president of Mount St. Mary's University, a former NCAA board member. Mount St. Mary's does compete in Division 1 athletics. And truth in broadcasting, my son David Rehm is provost at that university. Good morning to you, Dr. Powell. Good day to you.

  • 10:20:52

    DR. THOMAS POWELLGood morning, Diane. I'm just smiling. Your son is not only a provost. He is one of the best provosts I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

  • 10:21:01

    REHMThank you so much for those words.

  • 10:21:03

    POWELLAnd, Diane, I've been listening in to this conversation with Bruce, Christine, Joe, and yourself, and I just find it fascinating. And thank you for taking this topic. It is an absolutely -- we need this kind of discussion at a national level, so thank you so much for doing this.

  • 10:21:20

    REHMWhat was your reaction to the NLRB decision? Are these athletes really employees?

  • 10:21:29

    POWELLWell, Diane, I've read the decision and the administrator for District 13 of the NLRB are well intentioned. It is a limited decision about Northwestern but by and large from my perspective as a university president, I think they got it wrong. Our student athletes -- and I think Christine said this earlier in your show -- are receiving a world class education doing something that they want and they seek. And they seek to play sports, and in a particular case they seek to be football players. Nobody's forcing them into that. And in turn, they practice, they work hard, and they want to succeed.

  • 10:22:12

    POWELLIt's been my experience over 15 years that a number of our Division 1 athletes actually liked more practice time or more time in the gym doing preparation for sports because they want to succeed. They want to win. So I thought that the NLRB got it wrong. And I think it is the proverbial nose under the camel -- I'm sorry, the camel's nose under the tent in terms of what this might lead to in college sports.

  • 10:22:38

    REHMAnd what about the money, Dr. Powell? We're all watching the tournament, the basketball tournament this weekend. It's bringing millions of dollars for the schools and the conferences. Shouldn't the players get a piece of that?

  • 10:22:58

    POWELLWell, one could make the argument. And I heard Joe's comment about what we pay coaches, and I may make a comment on that in a second. You know, when you -- when you really trace the money, it does come back to the players in terms of facilities, in terms of making sure we are offering the sport that is there. And also somebody has to pay the tuition bills as well as their meals and their room, et cetera. So they are getting some of that compensation.

  • 10:23:27

    POWELLHowever, having said that, I think that intercollegiate athletics around the nation needs to take a good hard look at the money and where the money goes. I personally think it's ridiculous that we have coaches paid at such a high level. I have always maintained that we should ratchet that to what we pay provosts and that nobody should be making anything more than our provost is making as a way of getting control of that particular issue in terms of the money.

  • 10:23:58

    POWELLThe second issue is that the NCAA and through the CBS contract and other television contracts could provide some of that money back to the universities rather than conferences and earmark it specifically for academic improvements rather than just athletic improvements.

  • 10:24:16

    REHMJoe Nocera, you look as though you disagree with those comments.

  • 10:24:23

    NOCERAWell, yes, I do. I mean, first of all, you know, what is left out of that analysis is that the reason you can't cut coaches' salaries to a provost salary is because that's a restraint of trade. It's against the law. Coaches have every right to maximize their income. And if universities are going to pay that, that's -- restraint of trade -- the laws of the United States affect everybody involved in the sport except for the players. The players are nonparticipants in all of this.

  • 10:24:59

    NOCERAAnd so the idea -- and then also Dr. Powell said that the players are receiving compensation in the form of their scholarship. And so that speaks directly to the analysis of the NLRB which said that, yes, the scholarship is a form of compensation. And since it is a form of compensation, the players are therefore employees.

  • 10:25:25

    NOCERAYou know, Mount St. Mary's is in a very different situation than Alabama or Auburn or USC where they -- which is where the big money really, really flows and which is, you know, sort of a different situation than the student athlete at a small-time Division 1 basketball program.

  • 10:25:46

    FEINYeah, if I could just add, Diane.

  • 10:25:46

    REHMCertainly, Bruce.

  • 10:25:48

    FEINI think that, one, to authorize votes for unionization doesn't mean that the football players will vote for it. They may feel they're killing the golden goose.

  • 10:25:57

    REHMTrue. Sure.

  • 10:25:59

    FEINIf it's so great, like many autoworkers, all unionized. They voted recently -- VW, they didn't want to unionize. So if they think, and the university is able to convince them, you're going to kill a whole system if you vote to unionize, they can vote against it. And if...

  • 10:26:13

    REHMChristine.

  • 10:26:13

    FEINAnd I just want to add...

  • 10:26:14

    REHMOK.

  • 10:26:15

    FEIN...and then even if you do unionize, that doesn't entitle the union to any particular level of compensation or amenities whatsoever. It just says you bargain over them. It does what Joe says. It gives them some leverage to offset the, at present, virtually limitless authority of the school to just dictate whatever they wish.

  • 10:26:34

    REHMChristine.

  • 10:26:34

    BRENNANWell, I think it might be a good point here to again say the scholarship, of course, has value. There's such value -- you know, this notion that we're poor downtrodden athlete and working so hard and all the hours. And, you know, again, they signed up for this. They know they want to do it. They love it. They get to wear the uniform. They get to go to ballgames. But think of the coaching. What is that value to that athlete of any sport, at any campus for coaching for those four years or five years that he or she is playing?

  • 10:26:59

    BRENNANThink of the opportunity to show your wares on national television. What would the violinist in the symphony -- of the school symphony give to be on ABC from 8:00 to 11:00, so she could show her ability to play the violin to future employers? That, of course, is what football and men's basketball and women's basketball have. So there's so many other parts of this equation. And again, I think it's a fascinating conversation to have.

  • 10:27:21

    FEINBut it doesn't really disqualify them. The National Football League Players Association unionizes and these players get fabulous sums. They get on television. They're like rock stars. They probably end up living, you know, on Taj Mahal houses. They aren't denied unionization rights simply because they have a luxurious existence.

  • 10:27:39

    REHMOK. Now wait a minute. I want to get back to Dr. Powell because you've also said, Dr. Powell, that you think full scholarships should be done away with for athletes. How come?

  • 10:27:55

    POWELLI happen to believe that every student needs to have some commitment to their education. When you take a look at a full scholarship in athletics. it not only pays for their tuition and fees. It pays for their room, their board, books. And we also provide now, legitimately through the NCAA regulations, full summer for the students in terms of taking classes and being here in the summer.

  • 10:28:21

    POWELLMany athletes that I talk to don't really feel that they're vested in their education. And I think going back -- and I would agree with Joe that it's hard to look at Mount St. Mary's and say, you know, it's very hard to generalize across the 330 Division 1 pro ramps. However, I would say this in talking to athletes all around the United States. Some of them don't feel vested in that education.

  • 10:28:46

    POWELLAnd while few of our student athletes are going on to professional careers in athletics, all are going to go on to adulthood, and all are going to be in some sort of career at some point in their life. And they need to have a vested interest in their education. So I personally, if I were in charge, would say that every student needs to pay something for their education.

  • 10:29:10

    REHMDr. Powell, you were on the NCAA's board for several years.

  • 10:29:15

    POWELLYes.

  • 10:29:16

    REHMYou've seen it from the inside. How is change ever going to come if outside pressure like this Northwestern case does not happen?

  • 10:29:29

    POWELLWell, I think that there is a real value in -- especially from the college presidents to be pushed and prodded. We know -- I think when the presidents are together we know we've got problems in intercollegiate athletics. And we need to get the ship righted in many ways. Our president Mark Emmert has done a very good job in his term to help reassert the original intent. So I think that these outside cases do help. It helps form a national conversation like we're having right now. That's going to be helpful.

  • 10:30:05

    POWELLI would mention this, that when we're looking at groups to protect the interest of student athletes, I would not discount the role of college presidents and athletic directors. And it has continually been my experience that, when we get together, we do spend a tremendous amount of time talking about academic performance, how we can encourage it, how we can (word?) it, and also having a no-nonsense approach toward student athlete welfare on our campuses, that the welfare of those students are very much a primary concern to all of us.

  • 10:30:42

    REHMDr. Thomas Powell, he's president of Mount St. Mary's University. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 10:30:50

    POWELLThank you, Diane. And your panel's doing a great job. I'm thoroughly enjoying this conversation.

  • 10:30:54

    REHMThank you very much. And, Christine, your thoughts.

  • 10:30:59

    BRENNANWell, when we go back to the idea of unionization, I'm certainly no expert, Bruce, as you are on this topic, but I have more questions than answers. I have no answers, so I have questions. So if you decide after playing one game that you don't like the practices, do the unions say, OK, we're going to cut practice hours, you know, in other words, things that we've seen throughout history? Can you move between teams and leave after a season? Are you unionizing the women's lacrosse team and the women's field hockey team?

  • 10:31:27

    REHMI was going to ask about Title IX.

  • 10:31:29

    BRENNANTitle IX, if you take it out of the academic model and move it into the business model, there are experts that say both ways on whether Title IX is applicable, but we'd have lawsuits galore of course, as we should. And I'm sure you're for equality for women and men, especially unionization. So are we unionizing everybody? And I'm just fascinated by the thought of what's going to happen if union just take over college sports.

  • 10:31:51

    FEINBut, Christine, the question isn't whether we'll unionize everything. It's whether they'll have an opportunity to decide they would be better represented by a union. In the auto field, because of what's happened to GM and some others, there's a large portion of the auto industry that the employees vote not to unionize.

  • 10:32:07

    BRENNANRight. Sure.

  • 10:32:07

    FEINIt's their entitlement to do. The same thing can happen with regard to college athletes.

  • 10:32:11

    BRENNANBut say women's lacrosse, should they be voting on this the same as...

  • 10:32:14

    FEINSure, why not? What's the hold up for?

  • 10:32:16

    BRENNANSure, so everybody...

  • 10:32:17

    FEINAnd if they vote on it then -- and if there's a representative they negotiate a collective bargaining agreement to address the issues that you've identified. It's worked that way for, like, 80 years in the ordinary employer-employee relationship.

  • 10:32:29

    REHMBruce Fein, he's principal at the Lichfield Group, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to bring in our listeners at this point. Let's see what they have to say. First let's go to San Antonio, Texas. Hi there, Jim. You're on the air.

  • 10:32:55

    JIMThank you for taking my call.

  • 10:32:56

    REHMSurely.

  • 10:32:56

    JIMI listen to your program quite regularly.

  • 10:32:58

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:32:59

    JIMThere is a certain amount of inequality when somebody who gets paid $5 million a year as a football coach is the highest-paid state employee, especially in my state, the State of Texas, and many other states in the country, if you look up that information.

  • 10:33:17

    JIMSecondly, they're recruiting and dealing with 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids. And the bargaining power is clearly on the side of the major programs. They bring them in for visits. They show them around. They treat them like royalty. And we're all aware of, you know, thousands and thousands of -- or at least many high school stars who go away to college and never make it and are washed out. And they end up with career-ending injuries. The scholarships are for one year at a time, and these guys are cast aside.

  • 10:33:55

    JIMThe other problem is the threat to minor sports. Most big-time programs lose money if you look at the stats. Some do make money, but they're usually the exception. There was an article in Sports Illustrated. Nebraska went to the Rose Bowl two years in a row, lost $850,000. Now, you could probably fund a lot of minor sports with the money that those programs waste. And I'll take my answer off the air.

  • 10:34:22

    REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Christine.

  • 10:34:25

    BRENNANWell, Jim, about that last point you made, that is absolutely accurate. And I think it's something that we should throw into the conversation, how it impacts everything we'll all decide. USA Today, my USA Today sports reported last year that just 23 of 228 athletic departments at NCAA Division 1 public schools generated enough money on their own to cover their expenses, again, 23 out of 228. That's basically 10 percent make money. Ninety percent lose money. Of course, Texas is making money, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, those other schools. Northwestern is not.

  • 10:34:58

    REHMJoe Nocera.

  • 10:34:59

    NOCERAThat is true but, you know, there are other questions of equality here as well. One is, why should the disadvantaged black kid who plays for the football team be subsidizing the upper middle class white kid who plays lacrosse? If the university thinks lacrosse has value, the university should pay for lacrosse instead of expecting the football team to do all the heavy lifting.

  • 10:35:23

    NOCERAYou know, these are -- and secondly, the idea that you can pay coaches 3, 4, $5 million -- at the University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley spends $500 million refurbishing a stadium and building a practice facility and then say there's nothing left over for players is really kind of absurd. In economics, they call this rent-seeking behavior.

  • 10:35:47

    NOCERAIt's -- the money has to go somewhere. And since it's not going to the labor force that's supporting the multibillion dollar industry, it's going to everybody else. No wonder nobody wants to change the system. Everybody makes money from the system except the players.

  • 10:36:01

    REHMJoe, here's a tweet from Donna who says, "If colleges start paying athletes, will tuition go up for the rest of the students to pay those athletes?"

  • 10:36:16

    NOCERAI don't think it would have any effect on tuition whatsoever. I mean, there's all kinds of -- one reason you'd want a union is if you wanted to have a salary cap, for instance. You can't have a salary cap in professional sports without a union. You couldn't have a salary cap in college sports without a union.

  • 10:36:30

    NOCERAI would also say, yes, we will litigate over the issue of Title Nine without question, but I do think that if football and basketball players become considered legally employees at the university as opposed to students at the university, I think that would change the legal dynamic. And I actually think it would wind up being legal to treat them separately from a financial point of view.

  • 10:36:51

    FEINIf I could just...

  • 10:36:52

    REHMBruce Fein.

  • 10:36:53

    FEIN...comment with regard to unionization and professional sports. These same forecasts of disaster -- financial disaster coming in were made when the reserve clause went out with a curt flood and its aftermath litigation. Well, the teams -- the fresher leagues thrived. They're making staggering amounts of money. So you have to be skeptical of all of these claims of financial calamity.

  • 10:37:14

    REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your tweets, your email, your phone calls. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 10:39:58

    REHMAnd as we talk about salaries, unionization, joining me now from Wichita, Kan., where he's on a recruiting trip, Paul Hewitt. He's head men's basketball coach at George Mason University, which competes in Division I athletics. Thanks for joining us, Coach Hewitt.

  • 10:40:25

    MR. PAUL HEWITTThank you for having me.

  • 10:40:27

    REHMI know you've been coaching for more than 25 years. What's your take on the Northwestern decision? Is it a good one?

  • 10:40:37

    HEWITTWell, quite honestly, I think we've got to find out exactly what the objective is. Obviously, NLRB ruled in the plaintiffs' favor. But exactly what are the goals, is the thing to be, you know, really discussed. As a matter of fact, I read something this morning or last night that the young man, Kain Colter, and some of the people with him are coming to Washington to "explain" what they want because there's a lot of things floating around out there -- misconceptions, in their opinion -- about what the objectives are.

  • 10:41:08

    HEWITTI know when I talk to my players about, you know, their feel about are they getting a good bargain with the scholarship, I think all of us -- coaches included -- you know, recognize that there should be an increase in what -- how the players are compensated, cost of attendance, and then some other things. But, generally speaking, especially if you're outside of the Big 5 conferences, I think a lot of student athletes will tell you that, outside of cost of attendance and some other changes that could be made to the NCAA, I think the deal is a good one.

  • 10:41:43

    REHMWell, what about the huge money that's being made from this ongoing NCAA tournament? Shouldn't players get some of that?

  • 10:41:57

    HEWITTYes, no question. I think we definitely need to, like I said, increase the amount of, you know, money that the kids are getting, to cover at least cost of attendance, and there are some other things. Now, with that said, I think the NCAA has done some things over the years to make the scholarship, you know, to bolster it a little bit. I think I heard one of your guests mention the fact that summer school's being paid for, the special assistance fund, the emergency relief funds, in case of things that come up where there needs -- emergency trips home.

  • 10:42:30

    HEWITTBut there certainly is more. And I think anybody who's part of the college sport scene, who has been involved as long as I have, recognizes that some of this has been brought on by maybe some stubbornness by NCAA administrators and also, quite honestly, just lack of understanding of what these young men and young women go through on a day-to-day basis. That's...

  • 10:42:47

    REHMYou've also -- perhaps if you've been listening, you've heard some commentary about how much coaches are paid.

  • 10:42:57

    HEWITTRight. Yeah, there's no question that, you know, that is a -- that some of the guys out there are making eye-popping amount of money. One of the things I think is dangerous sometimes with, when you talk about these salaries and often when you get into discussions like that, the perception is out there that you have, you know, 50 percent or 60 percent of the coaches are making that kind of money. Most of us got into it because we loved coaching. I was a high school coach at Westbury High School in Long Island after I graduated from Saint John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.

  • 10:43:27

    HEWITTAnd, you know, I was making $1,500 a season to coach the JV team and assist on the Varsity team. And then from there I got a graduate assistantship at University of Southern California, where I had a job making $40,000 a year working for Macy's Department Store. And I ended up going to USC and making $8,000 a year just to, you know, see what this Division I thing was all about. And obviously I was very fortunate, and I've been able to create a career for myself in Division I. But I think, to give the perception that, you know, all of us out there are making $5 million a year, I think is wrong.

  • 10:43:59

    HEWITTAnd, two...

  • 10:44:00

    REHMSo how much money are you making now?

  • 10:44:04

    HEWITTI'm making enough to support my family, my wife, and my three kids.

  • 10:44:07

    REHMI'll bet. I'll bet.

  • 10:44:09

    FEINThat means too much.

  • 10:44:10

    REHMYeah. But you won't give me a specific amount.

  • 10:44:15

    HEWITTWell, it's public record. If anybody wants to look it up, that's fine. But...

  • 10:44:18

    REHMSo if it's public, why not tell us?

  • 10:44:23

    HEWITTBecause I think that's personal information. But that's OK. Let me throw this at you. I'll say this, and again I do believe that we need to do more for the student athletes, but at the same time, you know, if we turn this into a, you know, if the union idea really takes hold -- and, again, we're not sure what Mr. Colter and the people who filed the case really want.

  • 10:44:46

    HEWITTI think you open yourself up, and I'm sure some of your guests have talked about the tax implications that may come down. Also, if you're talking about having strikes, you also have the potential of people crossing picket lines. And, again, I just think there's -- I would like to know more about what they're looking for, what their objectives are.

  • 10:45:06

    REHMOK.

  • 10:45:07

    HEWITTBut also I recognize that I think we definitely need to do more for the student athletes in terms of compensation.

  • 10:45:12

    REHMOK. And as you said, your salary is public record. I gather your base is like $660,000, and that would, I gather, have some additions to it. What do you think of the disparity between coaches and the scholarships that the athletes make?

  • 10:45:43

    HEWITTWell, I think there are a couple of ways to look at it. The big thing that people point to this time of the year is the NCAA agreement with CBS and Turner Broadcasting. They signed a 14-year deal, I think, about three or four years ago. And you have to ask yourself, what did these media platforms buy when they bought this huge tournament? If you're talking about a contract that's 14 years long, basically after year number four, every young man that's going to participate in the NCAA tournament was in junior high school or lower. Some of them may not even started school.

  • 10:46:20

    HEWITTSo unless you have TV executives that are trolling nurseries and trying to figure out who's going to be the next great one, what they buy is the brand of college basketball. They buy the coaches. The biggest brand in our game is Mike Krzyzewski from Duke. Everybody turns to when -- when a Mike Krzyzewski team is playing, that's who they -- you know, people tune in to see his team play.

  • 10:46:41

    HEWITTThey draw the biggest ratings. And so when CBS buys or Turner buys the tournament, they're hoping to see a Mike Krzyzewski coached team. They're also hoping to see the names that people are accustomed to the names that people are accustomed to seeing this time of the year, Kentucky, North Carolina. They don't know who's going to be in those uniforms.

  • 10:46:58

    REHMSure.

  • 10:46:58

    HEWITTThat's not to say that the kids don't deserve more. So I don't want it to be said, like I'm making this big, you know, argument why the coaches -- the kids shouldn't get more. The kids should get more. But I do think sometimes it's very easy just to pile on. But the reality is, you know, if Sylvester Stallone or Meryl Streep or somebody's in a big movie, they're going to get paid more than the person who's the stunt double.

  • 10:47:20

    REHMBruce Fein.

  • 10:47:21

    FEINJust a couple of things. One, I think the reluctance to disclose the salary indicates that he was a little embarrassed about the size compared to what the scholarships were. It's needing some change. But I want to underscore -- we don't have to ask what the objective is. The objective is simply the opportunity to vote, if they wish, to unionize in order to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

  • 10:47:44

    FEINThey don't have to negotiate salaries if they don't want to. And it's foolish to suggest that it's going to be a one size fits all. Each bargaining unit can negotiate something separate, tailored to the individual requirements or abilities of their universities. But they can always vote to de-unionize or not unionize at all.

  • 10:48:01

    REHMChristine.

  • 10:48:01

    BRENNANWell, Paul, I -- what you said there rings true in many ways about the team and the uniform. You know, in this Ed O'Bannon case, as you well know, and the listeners, some of them know, you know, this is the issue. But if there was no UCLA on the front of Ed O'Bannon's jersey, would anyone care about Ed O'Bannon's jersey? That's the point you're making.

  • 10:48:19

    BRENNANAnd I think it's an excellent one, that again, you're cheering for Duke men's basketball or Wisconsin men's basketball. And, yes, there are individual players, and they are worthy of our attention. But next year there will be some new players, and people will still be cheering like crazy for Wisconsin men's basketball. And that has to be a part of this conversation.

  • 10:48:40

    REHMJoe Nocera.

  • 10:48:43

    NOCERAI don't even know how to respond to some of that. The O'Bannon case is about the fact that the NCAA deprives players in perpetuity of the rights to their likenesses while they were in college. How can that be right? How can that be proper? I mean, it's a theft of intellectual property. I mean, the problem is that the people who are in favor of some version of the status quo, in order to be able to get to that place, have to ignore the laws of the United States, which the NCAA, by the way, has done very well for many, many, many years.

  • 10:49:17

    NOCERAWhen it comes to the adults in the system, the laws, like restraint of trade, like antitrust, all come into play. When it comes to what they call the kids, i.e. the students, the athletes, it all gets tossed out the window.

  • 10:49:32

    FEINAnd if I could, and everything...

  • 10:49:33

    HEWITTIf I could interject...

  • 10:49:33

    FEIN...Christina, you said about the athletes, you know, profiting because they're playing UCLA, Ohio State, you can say that with regard to professional football players, too. People come to root the San Francisco 49ers, the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys. Those players get that benefit, too. It doesn't deny them unionization rights.

  • 10:49:48

    HEWITTIf I could interject...

  • 10:49:49

    REHMAll right. Coach Hewitt, go ahead.

  • 10:49:52

    HEWITTI think, you know, when LeBron James went from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, his brand caused a drive of season ticket sales in Miami that was not there the year before. If Mike Krzyzewski were to go from Duke to Kansas or Duke to UCLA, that -- again, that brand would drive. And again, I don't want to come off as some coach who doesn't understand.

  • 10:50:17

    HEWITTYou know, I have a young daughter who just got her admissions letters last week. All around the country everybody got their admissions letters to where -- now, she's trying to decide where she's going to go to school. Part of the scholarship, sometimes you take kids who come from high schools that may not be the best in terms of their preparation for kids getting into college.

  • 10:50:38

    HEWITTAnd part of the scholarship is, if you have a special talent, just like if you have a legacy or you're a legacy, or if your dad or mom is a major donor to a particular school, it creates advantages and opportunities for you to get admitted to these schools. I don't know what the dollar figure is on that. I know that every morning when I wake up and I check my emails, I get five to eight emails from student athletes asking them to recruit them and give them a scholarship to come to Mason and coach them.

  • 10:51:01

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:51:03

    HEWITTSo, we're going to get into a whole line of...

  • 10:51:05

    REHMSure.

  • 10:51:05

    HEWITT...of thinking of, OK, what exactly is it worth and what price do you put on it? Now, I'll say this, the last thing I'll say -- and it's the one thing I've said and I think that's where one of your producers saw my quote -- for some reason, people really undersell the educational part of this thing. When you talk about the graduation rates of student athletes in college basketball and football -- I'm going to stick to college basketball because it's what I know -- we do a better job, OK, with the kids that we deal with than anywhere else on campus.

  • 10:51:35

    HEWITTAnd sometimes you see those numbers. People will say, well, the graduation is around 50 percent or 60 percent. Well, I've got a young man, Jarrett Jack, who in 2004 led us to the final four. Jarrett is one class away from graduating from Georgia Tech. Well, when he graduates, when you really see those numbers, he's not going to count because he didn't do it within six years of his start date.

  • 10:51:53

    REHMHmm.

  • 10:51:53

    HEWITTSo there are a lot of things out there, a lot of misconceptions and a lot of half-truths. And people play games with the numbers to say, this is what's going on.

  • 10:52:00

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:52:01

    HEWITTWhat I'm telling you, in my 25 years in the business, I think kids get a great education. They get a great opportunity. Should they get more? Absolutely, positively. Has the NCAA been stubborn in some of the things they've done with their likenesses and things like that, selling jerseys in a bookstore? That's silly. You know, that's something the NCAA should have given up a long time ago or given that money to the kids. But to say that these kids don't get a great value for their work and their time is -- I think you're being a little disingenuous.

  • 10:52:30

    REHMPaul Hewitt, he is head men's basketball coach at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Thanks for joining us, sir.

  • 10:52:42

    HEWITTOK. Thank you.

  • 10:52:43

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to take another call here. Let's go to Ed in -- I think it's Vian, Okla. Is that correct?

  • 10:52:58

    EDVian, Diane.

  • 10:52:59

    REHMVian, go right ahead, sir.

  • 10:53:01

    EDThank you for taking my call.

  • 10:53:03

    REHMSurely.

  • 10:53:04

    EDFirst, I disagree with the premise that student athletes are employees of the university. But I guess my question is this: Does it follow that the debate or drama teams or other academic teams, whose members also receive scholarships, will they be considered employees now?

  • 10:53:29

    REHMThat's a good question.

  • 10:53:30

    FEINNow, one of the critical elements of the decision in the football players' case was the fact that they're devoting 50 or 60 hours per week to sports and maybe 20 to education. I doubt whether those figures would be applicable to those who are in drama or to music or otherwise. And that was a critical element.

  • 10:53:50

    FEINThe other is the size of the scholarship money that they were receiving. They're worth over $100,000 over various years. But in any case, the judge -- the administrative law judge made clear that it's a case-by-case examination of the circumstances. But to my mind, the overwhelming decisive factor is when you're spending 60 hours at your extracurricular activity and 20 at education, it's pretty clear what your primary mission is.

  • 10:54:15

    REHMAll right. And, finally, to Diana in Laytonsville, Md. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 10:54:23

    DIANAHi. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:54:24

    REHMSure.

  • 10:54:24

    DIANAI would like to just dispute what the gentleman just now said. My son is a big-ten engineering major, and he hopes to work in the automotive engineering field in the future. And he does spend every bit of his time at the shop building a Formula SAE car. It's every day of the year, with the exception of maybe two at winter break, and, I don't know, maybe two days in the summer we get to see him. As parents, one of the things we are concerned about is that he spends way too many hours working on this car. It's a club activity.

  • 10:55:00

    DIANAYou really don't have a lot of opportunities to get a job after school, if you're not part of one of the Formula car teams, in the field that he wants to go into. He is carrying a 3.4, maybe 3.5 GPA. He's been on the team for four years. It will take him five years to graduate. And it is just a full-time occupation. They fundraise. They meet and greet. They shake hands with the people in industry.

  • 10:55:24

    REHMOK.

  • 10:55:25

    DIANAIt is a great opportunity and an honor, but it is every day of the year, all day, every day.

  • 10:55:32

    BRENNANYou know, Diane or Diana -- I wasn't quite sure which -- you bring up a good point. I think we've been hearing this from a couple of other callers and, I understand, Facebook and Twitter, whatever. There is a special relationship I think that people have with the university that is very different from a pro team. And I'm throwing this out again -- we've got lots of experts. I respect everyone on this conversation.

  • 10:55:48

    BRENNANBut when you think about it, there's something fun about going -- you're talking about your son and his academics. There's also that sense that there's an engineering student or two that's on the field, and you can kind of cheer for them. And the punter was in your major when you were in school. And there's something that -- there's a feel-good aspect.

  • 10:56:05

    BRENNANThere's also, of course, the parents who are paying, of course, the tuition full ride. Wait till we hear from those parents, like Diane, about, OK, now we're unionizing? Now we're, whatever. And, of course, that is a very significant revenue stream for any university donations. How will those play out if all of this starts to play out on the union front?

  • 10:56:23

    REHMJoe Nocera, last comment.

  • 10:56:26

    NOCERAOh, well, I don't think it'll make any difference to donations whatsoever. One of the things that I've long said is that if the horrible conference realignment that has taken place over the last couple of years, which destroyed so many great rivalries, if that doesn't ruin college sports, paying players or unionizing or giving players more voice is not going to ruin college sports either.

  • 10:56:46

    REHMJoe Nocera, he's opinion columnist at The New York Times. Christine Brennan, national sports columnist at USA Today and author of "Best Seat in the House: A Father, a Daughter, a Journey through Sports." Bruce Fein, principal at The Litchfield Group. What a great conversation. Thank you all.

  • 10:57:14

    BRENNANThank you, Diane.

  • 10:57:14

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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