A good way to figure out whether you’ll end up on the right side of history is to consider how much you have to lie or make insane assertions to make your point.
If you’re a college administrator trying to keep a system that allows you to use unpaid labor, you have to do it a lot.
The NCAA has been sued a number of times by former and current athletes hoping to get a piece of the revenue that they earn for the schools and the association, which means the NCAA has brought in a number of school presidents and athletic directors to lie for them, some under oath. And it has gotten others to make apocalyptic predictions with no basis in fact. It happened during the Ed O’Bannon trial, and it’s happening again in the Martin Jenkins case, which is seeking to open up the market that is restrained by the NCAA.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest lies and the craziest assertions told in these trials and in interviews that administrators have somehow gotten away with.
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart
If (athletes were paid), “the opportunity to foster 500 opportunities in 20 sports goes away.” – Jenkins case interview
This is a classic defense: Schools claim that they will have to cut other sports if they pay athletes. Except that’s not at all the case.
Athletic departments like to pretend that they are broke, because they spend all the money they bring in, but as noted by Bowen’s Revenue Theory of Cost, schools are incentivized to spend everything the have because they’re non-profits, so they spend on non-necessities. This is confirmed in practice.
“Non-revenue sports” are not a drain on universities. Even women’s bowling teams often make money, as its revenues are hidden. And there is nothing forcing Kentucky to hold steady at 20 sports right now. More likely, schools would be forced to take money away from the over-inflated salaries of administrators like Barnhart and give it to athletes, which Barnhart doesn’t want.
So could Barnhart kill sports in spite if athletes are paid, choosing to keep his salary intact? Sure. He could do that now if he wants to. But he is absolutely wrong to say the “opportunity” to fund those sports goes away if athletes are paid. He knows the numbers, but he would rather lie than potentially lose part of his salary.
Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch
“You wouldn’t have the money to give full scholarships in non-revenue sports (if athletes were paid).” – Jenkins case interview
Hatch repeated the lie told by Barnhart in his interview for the Jenkins case, but in a different way. He claims that scholarships will “cost” the university too much to pay for if athletes are paid.
Of course, Hatch could cut the artificially inflated athletic administrator salaries, but even his assertion that full scholarships are a major cost is wrong. Scholarships don’t “cost” the university the full price of tuition.
South Carolina president Harris Pastides
“[B]ecause I see no pathway to increase revenues for the increased costs of operating athletics, we would look to cutting programs within athletics to make up for that shortfall (if players were paid).” – under oath at O’Bannon trial
As noted above, the “cutting sports” argument holds no water, but Pastides made an even more ridiculous statement that he knew was objectively false: “I see no pathway to increase revenues …”
Pastides gave this testimony—again, under oath—two months before the SEC Network was launched. How Pastides did not see the SEC Network as a potential “pathway to increase revenues” is baffling and frankly impossible to believe. He and his fellow SEC presidents didn’t join with ESPN to start the SEC Network just to lose money.
Of course, thanks in part to the SEC Network, South Carolina’s average rate of revenue growth in the past two years doubled compared to the four years before Pastides testified.
Texas president Greg Fenves
He “cannot comprehend how athletics could be a part of university life” if student-athletes were professional players. – Jenkins case interview
Perhaps this isn’t a flat-out lie, but it is mind-bogglingly dumb. Work-study students already make money from the university and are part of campus life. I freelanced while in college and was part of campus life. Some athletes receive more scholarship money than others and all are still part of campus life.
As long as schools still have academic requirements for athletes to remain eligible, then they are objectively still part of campus life. The amount of money they make is irrelevant.
Former Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke
If the model were changed to a more professionalized version, the members of the John Purdue Club would cut back in their giving and their level of interest in intercollegiate sports. “They see how much we’re getting from our media contracts and that the university is taking a cut,” (he) said. They ask him, “why are you asking us? You’ve got money.” – Jenkins case interview
Like Fenves’ statement, this might not be a lie—Burke might be so uncritical in his thinking that he does think this—but it makes absolutely no sense.
Donors give money to build bona fide recruiting palaces, and some already give money straight to athletes under the table. Burke expects us to believe that donors will abandon his program simply because they’re helping athletes get by? They won’t still want to see their name on fancy facilities?
As Purdue blog Hammer and Rails pointed out, Purdue is having trouble finding donors because its spots teams are terrible, not because they’re doing more to help athletes. Plenty of schools that are doing more for athletes are doing just fine with donations because they’re winning.
Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir
“If (Stanford’s athletes) are deemed employees, we will opt for a different model.” – Interview with USA Today
By default, Stanford football players—like football players at all Division I private schools—were deemed employees by a National Labor Relations Board ruling in 2014. Shockingly, Stanford did not leave Division I athletics and “opt for a different model” after the ruling was announced.
A national NLRB ruling later ruled that Northwestern players could not unionize, but it never reversed the employee designation.