Players are Employees? Ok, Put Them on a Contract.

Michael Bird at SB Nation recently published a blog describing the circumstances in which a college football players’ union would, in effect, end the NCAA’s transfer rule. The rule disallows players to compete after transferring for a period of one year. If the court determines that the players are employees, then non-compete clause laws in many states would make the NCAA’s rule illegal and they would have to be allowed to play immediately.

If college football players are employees, then California’s prohibition on non-compete restrictions likely applies. Oklahoma and Nebraska…also have prohibitions on non-compete provisions as unlawful restraints on trade. Louisiana requires that a non-compete restriction list specific parishes to be enforceable. Wisconsin and Arkansas will permit non-compete restrictions, but their law is generally hostile to the concept.

And that’s where the NCAA’s rules on transfers enter the picture. A typical employee non-compete restriction tells a sales representative that he can’t sell on behalf of a competing business within a certain territory for a year after leaving his current employer. The NCAA’s rules on transfers tell FBS football players that they cannot move to another FBS program and play for a year after the transfer. Do you see a difference?

In other words, it is illegal in many states to include a clause in an employment contract prohibiting the employee from working for a competitor for a set period of time after leaving a company. So, if the players are given employee status, the NCAA’s transfer rule may also become illegal in those same places. A player could potentially transfer to one of those states and play immediately based on those states’ laws.

Here are my thoughts.

If you want to compare being a college football player to working for Apple or Ford or Walmart, I see the connection. But, if you compare it to it’s most similar profession, playing in the NFL, things don’t work that way. An NFL player can’t just decide one day that he wants to leave the 49ers and go play for the Seahawks. Sure, he can ask his team to trade him and make a big fuss, but a player under contract doesn't get to "transfer" teams just because he’s not playing enough or doesn't like the coach all of a sudden.

If these guys want to be considered "professional" football players as employees of a university, let them sign four- or five-year contracts with financial penalties for not fulfilling their contracts. I think the transfer issue might take care of itself if it costs a kid $25,000 to get out of his contract with a school because he’s mad about playing time or the coach’s play-calling.