Nothing could be fine-r

What at first appeared to be an off-hand comment by Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster – who, it’s worth noting, makes roughly $1.3 million a year – about fining players for various infractions, has now been revealed as a well-articulated system already in place. On Tuesday, Foster said that now that players were being paid, why couldn’t they be fined? He was referring to new NCAA rules that allow schools to top-off the grant in aid to athletes with additional money that covers the full cost of attendance at school, including travel from home to school and vice versa. At Virginia Tech, the additional cost-of-attendance payment is around $3,500.

The backlash that followed Foster’s comments prompted the school to quickly announce that the fining scheme was being discontinued immediately. But according to the Richmond Times, some players have already been assessed fines, for things like maintaining a messy dorm room ($50), missing a class ($90) and failing to bring equipment to practice ($50). In all, the Times has reported, five players were docked a total of $330.

A few points:

  1. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough – the NCAA’s and its representatives use of words like “student” and “amateur” are nothing more than terms of convenience. In a thousand ways, coaches, athletic directors, boosters and other supporters of the big time college athletics enterprise regard players as employees, whose primary responsibility to the school is to play the sport for which they were recruited under a boss – their coach – who rightly controls their time and conduct while they are at the university. No other “educator” at the university has control over students that in any way remotely resembles the control that coaches have over players. This was an important part of the regional NLRB’s ruling last year that Northwestern football players are employees under American labor law. The national NLRB’s recent decision to table the regional ruling did not challenge this basic fact. Players are brought to campus to play a sport, for which they receive compensation in the form of a scholarship and, now, a few thousand extra dollars for expenses not otherwise covered.
  2. The reason Bud Foster and Virginia Tech – as well as other schools who’ve been contemplating a scheme of fines – imposed the system they did is because they took their cues from professional sports, where fining players for various infractions is commonplace. There are very few other workplaces where such a norm prevails – monetary deductions for failing to meet specifically articulated company rules (like keeping a tidy office). And students are certainly not subject to such rules – parking and library fines are the most likely hits to the wallet they’ll take for breaking campus rules. But in pro sports, fines born of the disciplinary ideas underlying the Tech program are common. I mention this because, the NCAA’s legal pretenses notwithstanding, it’s a simple fact that coaches and other athletics supervisors of big time programs think of their players as akin to pro athletes, apart from the self-serving belief that their players should not receive a real salary.
  3. If the NCAA were smart, it would knock off this nonsense immediately, preparing and pushing for legislation that bars fines of any type for student-related activities of which, the NCAA insists, participating in a sport is but one. Since no other students on campus can be fined for engaging in a student-related activity, and since participating in a sport is merely that, fines are simply out of bounds. Coaches have plenty of other disciplinary tools – including withholding playing time – at their disposal. The NCAA should realize just how nauseating are the optics of blowhard millionaires thinking its perfectly appropriate to take the last dollars out of a player’s pocket because of a messing freaking dorm room. Seems like a small price to pay for sustaining its ridiculous charade as long as possible.
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