Congressional Hearing on College Athletics

The House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing this morning to explore the potential implications of unionization in college sports. Among the witnesses called to testify were Ken Starr, President of Baylor University (yes, *that* Ken Starr), Bernard Muir, Stanford Athletic Director and economist Andy Schwarz.

I was following the proceedings on twitter, so I can’t provide a comprehensive assessment here. A couple of points worth mentioning:

1) The Chairman of this committee, John Kline, Republican from Minnesota, announced last week that he was convening this hearing because of the NLRB ruling declaring Northwestern football players employees under the National Labor Relations Act. In a statement, Kline said, ”Classifying student athletes as employees threatens to fundamentally alter college sports…” and called the ruling “a radical departure from longstanding federal labor policies.”

The hearing today appeared, not all that surprisingly, to proceed largely along partisan lines, with Republicans generally defending the status quo and warning of the perils of unionization, and Democrats supporting increased rights for athletes.

2) Ken Starr insisted that the purpose of athletics at Baylor was primarily an educational one. When asked how much money his head football and basketball coaches made, Starr claimed not to know. Personally, I regard as highly unlikely that he would not have a very good idea how much the top paid employees at his university make. Schwarz chimed in that Art Briles and Scott Drew made $2.4 million and $2.1 million, respectively. As I’ve said before, that’s right in line with your typical “educator” salary. Muir, the Stanford AD, apparently would not answer when asked what his head football and men’s basketball coaches made. Facts are, after all, stupid things.

3) Kline had said last week that the goal of the hearing was merely to gather information from relevant ‘stakeholders’ in college athletics. Not surprisingly, therefore, no current college athletes were among the witnesses. Because, well, you know….

4) There was lots of hand-wringing about what might befall humanity were the players to unionize, with some committee members and Starr speculating about whether the players could negotiate over class attendance and such. This is nonsense. There are, believe it or not, graduate student unions currently in existence. They bargain over the conditions of their work. They don’t bargain over going to class. The biggest obstacle to players going to class isn’t going to be a union. It’s their game schedule. Period.

5) The estimable Todd Rokita, Republican Congressman from Indiana, said about the NLRA that “I don’t think this law was even intended for this kind of situation.” This is the same Todd Rokita who supported the government shutdown last fall in order to protect the American people from Obamacare, which he described as “one of the most insidious laws ever created by man.”




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