GLADIATHER® LAW: DEVOS & WOMEN IN SPORTS

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By now most of you are aware that last week the Senate held it’s confirmation hearing for President Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  By a lot of people’s standards, DeVos’ performance was cringeworthy.  She avoided agreeing to uphold federal laws that protected disabled students, supported guns in schools to protect students from grizzly bears and revealed that she wasn’t knowledgeable in basic concepts about educational standards.  She provided little clarity about the tone she would set for the Department of Education and while it’s not immediately apparent, that also means there’s little clarity about the direction of women in sports. How could DeVos and the Department of Education possibly influence women in sports? For that answer I’m bringing you another installment of GladiatHer® Law.

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Is it Worth It: The Institutions

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Several weeks ago Missy Franklin discussed her experience as a freshman swimmer at Berkley.  Nothing earth shattering, right?  Not quite.  Franklin isn’t just any old freshman swimmer, she’s the current world record holder in the 200m backstroke, a 4-time Olympic gold medalist and the current Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year.  Franklin’s talents have brought her world class domination and made her eligible to begin to profit from her talents with endorsements, scholarships and prize money.  At the age of 17 Franklin could have started her professional career and began developing a very profitable brand, but she didn’t.  Instead, Franklin set the riches on the backburner and opted for life as an NCAA athlete, a life that provides a free education but strictly forbids profiting off of her talents.  She said no to the money.

Not everyone says no to the money.  Last month Mary Cain decided on a different path.  After a stellar year of breaking decades old records and becoming the youngest person ever to compete in the 1500m in the World Championship finals (at the age of 17), Cain has opted for the pro circuit.  She assessed her talents, goals and the market and decided that foregoing the NCAA was the right choice for her.  At the age of 16, golf phenom, Lydia Ko, also turned pro last month.  Ranked number four in the world, Ko’s eyes are on the big bucks, the education will come.  They said yes to the money.

In an age when it is commonplace for male athletes to spend very little or no time in college before turning pro, these ladies have shown that women may also be primed to more frequently make the decision to opt out of college and declare themselves professional athletes.  Undoubtedly, any young woman who is talented enough to be faced with this decision must ask herself, is it worth it? Is it worth it to give up a free education to pursue an uncertain professional career?  Or is it worth it to spend four years in school while potentially missing out on large sums of money?  On a larger scale, schools have also begun to ask themselves is it worth it.  Are sports programs, specifically women’s programs, worth the expense?  Is it worth it for schools to spend millions to support student athletes who will likely never play their sport as a professional?

In this portion of a two-part examination of the utility of female sports programs in colleges, I discuss the issue as it relates to schools.  The perspectives of the student-athletes and the institutions that house them are frequently very different, but each is vital to discussing the topic.  The schools, as the providers of the opportunity, often view the utility of programs based on budgetary and statutory concerns1; while the student-athletes take a more personal view of the issue.  In the end; however, if one group collectively decides that college female sports programs are no longer effective or useful, the entire system will collapse. 

Last year, a small but top-notch all-female historically black college, Spelman College, did something to shake things up on their campus and in the entire academic community; they cancelled their sports programs.  Not just the smaller sports, but the big sports like basketball too.  Spelman’s sports program was costing about $1 million per year and serving only 4 percent of the student body.  In the meantime, the rate of obesity and heart disease among Spelman’s current and former student body was alarming.  With those facts, President Beverly Daniel Tatum rationalized that for the women of Spelman College, college sports was not an endeavor worth taking on.  So the student-athletes’ college careers were cut short and the $1 million would be used for health and wellness programs that would benefit the entire student body.  For Spelman, women’s sports were not worth it.  It was more important to use those monies to support the greater student body than to support a few student athletes whose athletic careers would probably go no further than Spelman.

Spelman’s radical decision reveals that for many institutions, funding athletic programs cost large amounts of money with little or no economic return.  But is economic return the only factor schools should and do consider when developing and maintaining athletic programs? A review of Division I athletic departments revealed that 90 % of Division I schools operate athletic programs with the support of subsidies from outside programs, meaning the revenue from sports does not match the amount spent on sports programs.  Since these schools continue to fund athletic programs, economic return can’t be the only factor schools consider when maintaining athletic programs.  So what factors, other than money, could make it worth it for schools to fund sports programs?

Pride

One factor that schools should consider in determining whether to maintain athletic programs is institutional pride.  Athletic programs and sports foster a sense of community, belonging and pride for students, faculty and alumni.  Homecomings and reunions are often developed around sporting events.  Mascots and sports teams give institutions public faces and provide institutional members with an identity and a symbol that they can point to with pride.  These senses of pride and community encourage alumni to actively participate in the development of their alma maters and to give back, financially and otherwise, to their institutions.  In fact, Spelman Vice President for Development, Kassandra Jolley, revealed that one of the initial reactions that she received after announcing that Spelman would no longer host NCAA sports was, “Good luck with your alums.”  Institutions should consider the value in developing and maintaining a sense of school pride through sports teams.  That value is displayed as healthy morale in among institutional members and as dollar signs from those who wish to support the institution. 

Diversity

In addition to fostering institutional pride and encouraging philanthropy, studies have shown that sports affect future applicants and students.  Empirical data shows that the performances of athletic teams (specifically football and basketball) directly affect the number of applicants, with great performances from the teams leading to increases in applications.  If sports programs have the potential to directly affect the number of students that apply, then they indirectly have the potential to diversify the applicant pool.  An increase in applicants means that more applicants will likely come from varying backgrounds and have varying skill sets.  This increase in diversity and demand allows schools to truly pick from the best and brightest to fill their classrooms each academic year. 

If sports have the potential to increase and diversify the applicant pool, it follows that sports programs have the potential to diversify the entire student body; on two fronts.  Obviously, if institutions are concerned with supporting a diverse student body, a fuller, more diverse applicant pool would increase the likelihood that institutions will accept students who will create heterogeneous learning environments that encourage the sharing of different ideas and cultures.  Classrooms, campus organizations and initiatives are enriched through the participation of students with different perspectives, ideas and talents. 

Sports programs have an even more direct way of diversifying the college experience: the existence of athletic teams means that there will be student-athletes in the classrooms, duh.  Most colleges understand the value in having diverse classroom settings filled with students with athletic, political, academic and scientific talents and aspirations.  Diverse classrooms improve the quality of education.  Many student-athletes bring lessons of teamwork, leadership and creativity to the classroom; lessons they have learned through their participation in sports. The tools that student-athletes bring to the classroom setting enrich the learning experience for all.      

Scholarship

I also believe that schools should consider scholarship programs when maintaining athletic programs.  Most academic institutions desire to reward students for their accomplishments and to provide opportunities for less than fortunate students to attend college.  Athletic scholarships allow schools to do just that.  But for athletic scholarships, many individuals could not afford a college education.  Athletic scholarships provide athletes with the opportunity to advance their knowledge and earning potential.  Athletic scholarships also allow schools to acknowledge that athletic accomplishments can and should be rewarded on the same or similar level as academic accomplishments.  Oftentimes, the student-athletes who receive scholarships have proven their ability to excel at both, increasing the incentive for institutions to reward their hard work and talents.

While an uninformed glance at the system of athletic scholarships may suggest that student-athletes are given a “free ride,” the readers of this article know differently.  Offering athletic scholarships sets up a quid pro quo.  Athletes are provided an education a little to no financial cost to them and their families.  In exchange, schools are able to diversify their applicant pools and student bodies, ensuring that the crème de la crème attend their schools; and they are able to foster senses of community and pride, which encourages active and fruitful participation among current and former students.  Everybody wins. 

The Verdict

While the cost of funding athletic programs may not outweigh the revenue that sports programs generate, this is one case where it’s not (or shouldn’t be) all about the money.  Sports bring more than money to college campuses.  They bring school spirit and pride, encourage increased attendance and participation, contribute to diverse student bodies, and provide educations for hundreds of thousands of student-athletes.  Money is important, but thankfully most colleges agree that, at least where sports are concerned, it isn’t everything.  Even for Spelman, it wasn’t all about the money.  Spelman considered the financial cost of its athletic program, but it also considered the cost to its overall student body.  For Spelman, sustaining a sports program meant that it would be failing its larger student body because it would be unable to promote and support healthy lifestyles among those women.  Spelman was willing to sacrifice the school spirit, the diversity, and the scholarships for the sake of the health of its women.  I don’t blame them, but I do pray that the number of institutions who follow suit, especially those who look at the dollar signs first, is at a minimum because, after all, it is worth it. 

1. Many schools determine their ability to support female sports teams based on their budgets and Title IX.  While the vast majority of schools cannot afford to house an extensive amount of female teams; if they have male teams, Title IX requires that they spend proportionately on female sports programs. 

 

 

THE CURIOUS CASE OF NCAA VIOLATIONS

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I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the latest NCAA scandals.  You know, the Johnny Manziel show, the Oklahoma State saga and the drama in the SEC.  If you’re not, click on those little highlighted words and catch up.  Reading about these and countless other scandals has made me realize that there are really no “new” scandals.  Every year we sort of hear about the same violations over and over…and over again.  Think about it.  At this point, it’s no secret that, against NCAA regulations, Division I football and basketball players receive payments and benefits from agents and other opportunists wanting to make an early investment in future professional athletes.  It’s no secret that teams lower the academic standards for their student-athletes in hopes of keeping them eligible and focused on sports and winning championships; or that, like other college students their age, student-athletes experiment with drugs, sex and alcohol.  None of things may be morally right, but it’s no secret that they happen.  What is a bit curious to me is, why these scandals aren’t replicated in women’s sports.  Of course there are NCAA violations in women’s sports, but they just aren’t as prevalent and serious.  I mean, there are some millionaire female athletes out there.  Women’s coaches want to win just as much as men’s coaches; and surely, female student-athletes want to party just as much as male student-athletes.  So what gives?  Why does it appear that women’s college sports has been, thus far, spared the massive NCAA scandals that so frequently plague the men’s games?

Most questions that involve gender/sex really have no simple, one part answer.  This question is no different.  There are multiple factors that have contributed to the relatively quiet women’s game, so let’s dive in:

The Money

It’s always about the money, isn’t it?  Well, for women’s sports it’s more about the lack of money that explains the limited occurrences of NCAA violations.  Of course, Title IX requires that colleges and university spend an equal amount of money on women’s sports as they do men’s, but it’s not the money spent in college that makes the difference; it’s the money spent in the professional arena.  It’s a fact that men’s sports command more money than do women’s sports and that makes all the difference. 

Consider basketball.  Earlier this year the NBA announced that the Salary Cap for the 2013-2014 season would be $58.679 million.  The WNBA’s Salary Cap sat at a mere $913,000 in 2013.  Individually, in the 2013-2014 season a rookie NBA player could sign a contract for more than $13.5 million.  Contrast that with $105,000 for a WNBA rookie.  The differences are dramatic and very telling of the varying interests in the respective leagues.  But for the NCAA the differences tell more than that. 

The differences in salary possibilities have created vastly different mentalities among student-athletes and potential support staff. Support staff refers to the agents, financial advisors, accountants and other people who help manage the careers of professional athletes.    It’s a no-brainer really.  For the student-athletes, $13,000,000 provides more incentive to play professionally than does $100,000.   And for the support staff, 3% of millions provides more incentive to make a living with male basketball players than does 3% of thousands with female players. 

This incentive to make a living as and with a professional athlete drives the actions of the student-athlete and the potential support staff.  Student-athletes who are focused on scoring a multiple million-dollar contract are less likely to prioritize classwork and more likely to participate in schemes that call for cheating, allow others to do their work, and sit in less than challenging classes for easy “A’s.” Female student-athletes, however, who are likely to get a job as a non-athlete that pays more or just as much as some rookie contracts are more likely to focus their efforts on education and personally excelling in classes that will make them eligible for successful careers as non-athletes.  The motivation for the support staff is similar.  The incentive to recruit and give improper benefits to a potential millionaire NBAer is much stronger than the incentive to recruit a player whose initial contract may not break $50,000 and who will likely have to play overseas to make any substantial money.   Considering these numbers its easy to see why the reports of academic immorality and improper benefits are few and far between for women’s sports when compared to their male counterparts.

The History

It’s no secret that sports have not been as popular for women as they have been for men for as long as they have been for men.  And the lack of history and development has played a key role in NCAA violations.  If you don’t mind, I’ll again use basketball to illustrate my point.  

Not until 1972, with the passage of Title IX, did Congress require colleges to provide for gender equity in sports.  And it wasn’t until ten years later, in 1982, that women had their first Division I-NCAA tournament.  By that time the men had crowned 43 national champions, with my alma mater UCLA grabbing ten of those.  During those 43 years, the men’s game was able to garner a tremendous following that helped grow the participation in and viewership of the sport.  This increased the talent pool and the potential for revenue in the sport.  With the increase in talent and revenue came an increase in the desire for athletes, support staff, and coaches to profit off of the sport, even at the risk of violating NCAA regulations.  During those same 43 years, the women’s game was small and nonexistent on many campuses and battled sexist sentiments that kept many potential players and viewers disinterested.  The lack of interest in the women’s game kept the talent pool small and the revenues meager (to put it lightly) while simultaneously ensuring that athletes, support staff and coaches had less (if any) incentive to violate NCAA regulations.  Post 1982, the same trend continues.  The men’s game has grown exponentially to the women’s game and so has the potential and incentive for NCAA violations. 

The picture of history in NCAA basketball is mirrored in many NCAA sports.  The lack of history in women’s sports in comparison to men’s has created a chasm in interest in playing and watching women’s sports which in turn has created a similar gap in potential revenue and the incentive to violate NCAA regulations in efforts to get a piece of that revenue. 

The Expectations

.5%.  .5% is the number of student-athletes who will go on to play their respective sport professional.  Out of the roughly 400,000 student-athletes, that means that about 2,000 have a chance of going pro.  The numbers get even smaller, of course, when you begin to consider them on a sport-by-sport basis.  In 2012, the NCAA reported that out of the 17,890 men who played NCAA basketball, only 51 were drafted.  Of the 16,134 women who played NCAA basketball, only 31 were drafted.  And of the 69,643 men who played football, only 253 were drafted.  I’m not much of a gambler, but those odds don’t look so good to me. 

One would think that these numbers would encourage athletes to use their time as student-athletes to get an adequate education that will prepare them for the future as a non-athlete.  But it doesn’t quite play out like that, well for the men at least.  The mentality of many male student-athletes, especially in sports like football and basketball at large programs, is one of an expectation of a professional sports career.  Many more than the 51 or 253 fully expect to play professional sports, viewing their time at their respective institution as merely preparation for a career as a professional athlete.  With such expectations, many focus their attentions on the pros, and severely underestimate the need for completing a degree and the need for building a non-sport-related resume.  Instead, they overestimate the need to form “special” and sometimes financial relationships with potential support staff and the need to focus on winning in their respective sports at the expense of excelling in the classroom. These unsupported expectations have encouraged many male athletes to participate in activities that are not conducive to completing their degrees and remaining eligible but are reflective of their expectations that their lives as professional athletes will ensure that they won’t need to graduate or remain on good terms with coaches and professors.

Women, on the other hand, appear to have less of a focus on playing professional sports and more of a focus on completing their degree.   Earlier this year an annual study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida on the teams in the NCAA basketball tournament revealed the following:

  • Women graduated at a rate of 90% versus 70% for the men. 
  • Women also had only one team in the tournament with an APR below a 925 compared to the men who had three teams. 
  • 94% (60) of women’s teams vs. 53% (36) of men’s teams graduated at least 70%;
  • 98% (63) of women’s teams vs. 65% (45) of men’s teams graduated at least 60%;
  • No women’s teams vs. four men’s teams graduated less than 40 percent.

I don’t think that female athletes are innately smarter than male athletes, but I think the statistics are a reflection of women’s expectations and focuses.  Women are more focused on degree completion and expect that college will lead to a career as a non-athlete.  To stay focused and meet that expectation, women tend to stay clear of potential academic, conduct, and amateurism violations that would hinder meeting their goals.

The source of the varying expectations probably comes from a number of things, including: the prominence and roles of female and male professional athletes; the salary potential of female and male athletes; and advice from family members, friends and coaches.  Whatever the source may be, it seems that expectations dictate responses.  

The End

I started off by suggesting that there were multiple issues affecting the varying levels and degrees of NCAA violations among women and men sports.  But as I reflect on what I wrote, Lil Wayne’s voice just keeps saying, “Gotta get back to the money.” And he’s right.  It all boils down to the money.  The possibility of making millions motivates student-athletes, support staff, and coaches to violate NCAA regulations among men’s sports.  The relative lack of historical depth has limited the revenue potential in women’s sports, which in turn limits the motivation for participants to violate NCAA regulations.  And the allure of making millions causes male athletes to have lofty expectations of grand careers as professional athletes despite what the statistics prove.  Cash rules. 

If women’s sports and the potential revenue from women’s sports continue to grow, which I hope and believe they will, I predict that we will see an increase in the number of NCAA violations in the women’s game.  They, the coaches and support staff will chase the dollar and the dream just like those involved in the men’s game.  The NCAA regulations stand in the way of (or at least significantly prolong) the possibility of living a luxurious life as a professional athlete.  The stronger the possibility that that lifestyle is attainable, the more women (just like men) are more likely to buck the system that conflicts with that lifestyle.  I guess the question is, who will break first, the giant that is the NCAA or the giant that is money.  With all of the current criticism about the NCAA and the unfairness of pay without pay, my money’s on the money.