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An essay from former Northwestern safety Jared Carpenter about issues in college sports

Jared Carpenter played safety at Northwestern from 2009-12. A starter in his final season, Carpenter recorded a career-high 10 tackles and was named Most Valuable Player in the Wildcats' Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State. Carpenter is a registered investment advisor and general securities registrant with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. You can follow him on Twitter @CarpeD_em.

The Game

“...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” More insightful, courageous, and pertinent words have not been written in light of the imminent debacle of the NCAA. These words from July 4, 1776 combined with an inherent moral inclination to stand for what’s right are what have compelled me to share a more in-depth view of the issues underlying the recent controversy in college football.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Northwestern University’s football players qualify as employees of the university and therefore have the right to unionize. This decision immediately became a top story on every social media forum, on ESPN, and on many other news outlets. This issue has long been a popular topic of discussion and debate throughout the many sects of sports fans and society for years, and yet an issue brushed under the rug. Although whether or not college football players are explicitly employees has never been the verbatim dialogue of those colloquial conversations, it in fact is the fundamental underlying ideology that has driven those everyday discussions and ignited the disputes. The chicanery engineered by the NCAA is now being exposed, and despite the many efforts to preserve the facade and mitigate this attack on the systemic exploitation conducted by the NCAA, the record must be set straight. It is undeniable that college football players are employees by definition, but even further, major Division I college football players are financial assets that fuel the capitalistic system of collegiate athletics.

As a former Division I, B1G 10 football player for, of course, Northwestern University, this issue is very relevant to my personal experience. Likewise, currently as a registered investment advisor in the state of Illinois and as a general securities registrant with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), this issue exhibits more relevance to my personal life. Let me go on record and admit that the foregoing financial registrations do not deem me an expert of finance or of the capital markets, nor has the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the State of Illinois approved or guaranteed my educational level or any information herein. However, what those fancy titles and registrations do mean is that I know the rules, regulations, and structure of the economic system better than the layperson. My insight of the student athlete as a financial asset derived from hours of studying the myriad of finance laws and industry rules, and from just as many, if not more, hours dedicated to my beloved alma matter, Northwestern University, and the oppressive regulatory authority, the NCAA, as a college football player.

In a capitalistic economy, billion dollar companies, both privately owned and public corporations, maintain their wealth by exploiting the labor of employees that are the foundation of their enterprises. In fact, capitalism is defined as an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations. “Means” being any agency, instrument, or method used to attain an end, so by definition, it is the grassroots working the ‘nine to five’ that are the means by which these privately owned companies and directors on the boards of the billion dollar corporations acquire and maintain their end objective: wealth. In the collegiate athletics industry, the NCAA and her subsidiary universities operate yet another capitalistic system in which the so called “student athlete” is the epitome of the employee being exploited for profit. As I mentioned earlier, it really isn’t debatable whether or not “student athletes” are employees, as “student athletes” are hired to perform jobs contingent upon a satisfactory evaluation in the same fashion as the employee. Starting in high school, or as early as middle school in some exceptional cases, the “student athlete” is evaluated via a process that is nearly identical to that used to evaluate a prospective employee of a fortune 500 corporation.

At the conclusion of every evaluation, the employee that has more potential to deliver the most value, whether that’s monetary or non-pecuniary, in the case of the “student athlete,” is the one selected to fill the vacancy. This is the same fundamental ideology of recruiters aiming to fill scholarships. If you look at the two labels, “student athlete” and employee, their respective values are determined by similar factors. Value is initially speculated upon via information from a resume, and then actually determined by supply and demand, the job or position being filled, and by economic factors. The employee for the fortune 500 company first must submit a resume in order to begin the evaluation­ process. That resume consists of personal information, work experience, skills and attributes, past performance and results, and other quantifiable metrics that help convey to the potential employer the value that the prospective employee can deliver. The prospective college football ”student athlete” also submits a resume, but in the nonconventional form of player bios and information cards, highlight tapes, and game film. These bios and information cards are generated by every football program in America and sent to prospective high school kids capturing their basic personal information and other criteria such as height, weight, 40-yard dash time, squat max, bench press max, and accolades. The highlight tapes and game film give the prospective employers tangible criteria to evaluate the potential value that the prospective employee will bring to the football program and athletic department. These highlight tapes and game film show the past performance and results of the prospective “student-athlete” better than any fabricated, well-tailored Microsoft Word document.

Once the employee is selected for the job, the actual dollar amount of his/her salary is determined by the other foregoing factors that affect value. The number of applicants and the number of qualified applicants compared to the number of vacant positions is the supply and demand relationship that affects the monetary value of the salary. The number of scholarships that a football program has to offer compared to the number of prospective athletes that are qualified to play and those interested in playing at the Division I level is the supply and demand relationship that determines the non-pecuniary value of each scholarship. For example, when I was being evaluated for employment, my resume combined with my academic performance made me a very marketable prospective employee amongst the highly regarded “academic employers,” such as Duke, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and of course Northwestern. I was recruited much harder and more persistent than other prospective employees throughout the nation to fill each school’s open positions. Now, because the regulatory authority, the NCAA, has established rules against it, I wasn’t offered any incentives like a signing bonus, nor was I able to negotiate a salary, but similar to any other well qualified employee, I was recruited more persistently. The value of the scholarship is determined a large part by tuition which is a set number that varies for different employers, and, again, the NCAA has rules in place prohibiting its “student athletes” from negotiating their contract particulars.

In addition to the similarities in determining value, the rules and regulations set forth by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) pertaining to employees, and those established by the NCAA are also identical. The DOL has established the “40 hour rule” for employees in the real world by stating, “..(no employee) may not be employed for more than 40hrs in a week without receiving at least one and one-half times their regular rates of pay for the overtime hours.” Now, I quoted the 40 hour rule, because it was my football coaches while at Northwestern who first coined that phrase. It was one that was used quite often throughout my time at NU, for example, “the NCAA only gives us 40, don’t let them hold you back from being a great player. 40hrs isn’t enough!” But, I digress. I bring up this DOL litigation to speculate on the possibility of it being coincidental that these numbers are the same, or rather, on the apparent intent of the NCAA to subliminally treat “student athletes” as employees. This is not a coincidence, as every word in any legal governing document in this country’s history- including the NCAA’s governing doctrines- is not selected without avail.

It is indubitable that the student athlete exceeds the definition of an employee to that of a financial asset. Collegiate athletes, particularly college football players, yield more monetary value than any other staff member currently recognized as an employee. Whether via tangible, direct sales of game tickets and merchandise and apparel, or via intangible, indirect branding, likeness, and exposure through the plethora of media outlets, the “student athlete” is the “National Collegiate Asset Administration’s” (NCAA) and its subsidiary member universities’ number one asset. There are many similarities between the financial industry and the college athletics industry that exhibit the latter is yet another capitalistic system within our larger economic system. Considering that our financial system in America is indeed one of capitalistic nature, it is insane to otherwise think that such a system could give birth to anything other than another capitalistic system. In addition to how it was defined earlier, and despite the many opinions and conjectures as to what capitalism is, capitalism inherently means to capitalize; take advantage of; to turn something to one’s advantage; to profit by, exploit, utilize. The NCAA operates according to this paradigm.

When the structure of both the financial industry and the collegiate athletics industry there are a lot of similarities between them. The financial industry consists of a regulatory authority, self- regulatory organizations (SROs), and member firms. The regulatory authority of the financial industry is the SEC; its SROs are FINRA, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), American Stock Exchange (AMEX), Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB); its members are numerous billion dollar entities and financial firms. Correspondingly, the collegiate athletic industry consists of a regulatory authority, the aforementioned “National Collegiate Asset Administration” (NCAA); its SROs are The B1G 10 Conference, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the PAC 12, the Big East et. etc; and it’s member firms are “fill in the blank” any university in these conferences. It’s no coincidence that the structure of both of these systems are very comparable, and the B1G 10 Conference explicitly explains my comparison on its website: “Our governance structure consists of legislative bodies- made up of volunteers from our member firms- that govern each division, as well as a group of committees that set association- wide policy.”

The member firms in the financial industry invest in inanimate assets from different classes whereas the universities invest in young adults ages 17-23. The financial member firms have groups of analyst constantly evaluating and speculating on the markets, economic conditions, and the various assets while college football coaching staffs also constantly evaluate and speculate on potential assets- the prospective “student athlete.” To wit, the NCAA and her universities invest in “student athletes” as if they are bonds maturing in 4-5 years with discretionary put provisions allowing termination of the investment contract before maturity. Standards & Poor (S&P), Moody, or Fitch are credit rating agencies (CRA) that rate bonds in the markets, however, the NCAA has created its own pseudo rating system, for example, Division (Div) I-A, I-AA, Div II, Div III, that rates the assets in collegiate athletics. These CRAs rate bonds based on the ability of the borrower to repay the lender the money invested. An S&P rating of AAA, the highest rating possible, implies that the borrower has extremely strong capacity to meet its financial commitments to repay the lender. Likewise, a rating of Aaa or AAA from Moody or Fitch respectively, imply an extremely strong capacity of the borrower to repay the lender the money invested. As it pertains to the quasi rating system of the NCAA, Div I-A athletes at Div I-A schools have the strongest capacity to repay and generate the most return on the investment (ROI). Div I-AA schools have stronger capacity than Div II schools and so on and so forth. The investment made by the NCAA and universities are the lucrative scholarship amounts, but like every investment contract, these institutions spend this money with the expectation to make profit that derives from the diligent efforts of the “student-athletes!”

Skillfully, the popular opinions and views of controversial issues such as this have been, and continue to be, molded and influenced by the seemingly infinite number of media outlets available in 2014. Hence, the most dangerous and most effective tool ever created to control a society’s opinions and views is propaganda. Propaganda is the deliberate dissemination of information, ideas, images, and rumors to harm or help a person, group of people, movement, culture or institution. Through the television and daily programming, the internet and social media, the newspapers and tabloids, and the billboards and advertisements, our society receives an incessant amount of information contrived to evoke a desired conclusion. With that in mind, who’s the author of these narratives and images being purported? What is the author’s motivation behind his engineered subliminal messages? The main objectives of CAPA and pro- union Northwestern players have subtly been misconstrued as efforts to obtain salaries and extra pay for amateur collegiate athletes, and an alleged civil war between former and current NU players has even been added to this plot. These are all deflection techniques used to suppress the inevitable forthcoming change.

The propaganda created and disseminated around collegiate athletics is so effective that our alma matters and/or college teams have become an integral aspect of our identity. I’m not Jared Carpenter, rather, Jared Carpenter, Northwestern Wildcat. The admirable principles of family, oneness and unity all have been intertwined with university brands and the college experience to create a “fuzzy feeling” environment that represents “home away from home.” Consequently the general public has developed this amorous relationship with his/her alma matter that, in many cases, is also their parents, siblings, and/or close relatives’ alma matter. When an individual’s identity, or an aspect of an individual’s identity, is attacked one will reflexively defend oneself and that identity, and subsequently, vengefully want to attack the opposition’s identity. Before we do either, we should consider a third reaction: ask ourselves, “What am I defending?” “Why am I defending it?” What you are defending is the systematic exploitation of 17-23 years old young adults, period. There is no other way around it, and any honest person cannot deny this fact. The types of injustices perpetuated by the NCAA do not constitute those “light and transient causes” that America’s founding fathers referenced. This system, like many others within our capitalistic society, is a modern day evolution of the many examples of oppression engraved in America’s history. To wit, the NCAA is nothing more than a benign, circumstantial benevolent despot exercising tyrannical influence over its subjects.

I conclude that there is no such thing as a “student-athlete.” There is only the student, or the athlete with the latter representing the masking term used for “employee” and “financial asset.” The young adults that are recruited from their homes to play college football and make their universities millions of dollars are only labeled as students to satisfy our society’s hypocritical moral beliefs. We all would agree that it is wrong to take advantage of and exploit human beings for financial profit, right? This is exactly what the NCAA is doing, in a much less physically malicious scheme, but because “that’s my alma matter,” or “that’s my football program” our society has been duped. Hasn’t America already experienced more than enough parallels to prevent redundancy? The emotional dynamic of the aforementioned amorous relationship that America has with the college experience and her beloved game of football is the blinding glasses that the NCAA has prescribed for our eyes. Arthur Schopenhauer put it best, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” At the commencement of the second stage we’re currently enduring, inevitably, the third will follow.