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I’m sorry your job is hard now, college gatekeepers!

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Unfortunately, that’s also your own fault.

Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

The following statement was released by Duke Athletic Director Kevin White on June 9. 2020.

As a former Olympic sport coach and as the Director of Athletics at a number of NCAA institutions, I am deeply concerned about the potential consequences of legislation permitting student-athletes to profit from the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). First of all, let me say that I got into college athletics because of my unadulterated admiration and affection for the young women and men who represent our colleges and universities. It has been my honor to work with and for them for more than 45 years. Moreover, as a member of the USOPC Board and chair of its College Advisory Council, my passion is the continued advancement of Olympic sports, especially at the collegiate level.

Along with my colleague and friend Bubba Cunningham, of the University of North Carolina, I am concerned about potential complications attendant upon the actual implementation of NIL legislation. How will it impact recruiting? Will it create a wide-open marketplace in which institutions solicit businesses or boosters to offer ever-escalating endorsement deals to a star high school quarterback or point guard? Will resources from equipment, apparel, and shoe companies be redirected to a relatively few individuals rather than being shared equally among the lesser known, but no less valuable, Olympic sports? How will it affect the locker room in which the vast majority of student-athletes go uncompensated? These are but a few of the questions for which we currently have no answers.

Bubba and I are concerned about the potential for abuse of NIL legislation; you can dismiss our concerns as those of athletics directors eager to preserve the status quo. Much harder to dismiss is the voice of the student-athletes themselves. The NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, made up entirely of undergraduate athletes, has expressed its concern that “there are a plethora of potential unintended consequences” to permitting the use of NIL. Among them, they identify “unfair recruiting and competitive advantages, difficulty monitoring compensation and ethics, unequal treatment of female athletes, and exploiting of athletes.” These are the legitimate issues raised by the athletes themselves. This is their voice; it should be heard.

Kevin, I’m sorry that your job is hard. You’ve been the Athletic Director at Duke since May 2008, and in that time you have not had to run a search for a new football coach, men’s basketball coach, women’s basketball coach, women’s golf coach, men’s or women’s lacrosse coach, men’s or women’s soccer coach, swimming and diving coach, women’s tennis coach, volleyball coach, or track & field coach. That’s the kind of stability most Power 5 schools would kill for, and I’m sure you would be happier living in the times where your most stressful week revolved around refuting unsourced blog rumors that Coach K was going to take the Lakers job.

I’m not even being sarcastic! It would be highly hypocritical of me, a blogger, to needle you over having a job that’s low stress and mostly silly.

It’s great that you’re worried about resources being shared equally among “the lesser known, but no less valuable, Olympic sports.” It’s curious that you’d raise this in the context of NIL, though, considering Duke spent $20.8 million on men’s basketball expenses in 2018 and less than $14 million on soccer, track & field, cross country, baseball, softball, and swimming & diving combined. Unequal treatment of female athletes? Duke spent $26.2 million on football in 2018 and $24.5 million on women’s sports as a whole.

Sure, football and basketball bring in more revenue than the other sports, but you yourself said this was about treating all sports as valuable, not just throwing things over to the open marketplace!

You’re also concerned about how we’ll monitor compensation and ethics. I have great news for you. Just this year, a scrappy little team of do-gooders, the NCAA Enforcement Staff, has nailed the following ne’er-do-wells:

Rest assured, the NCAA has decades of experience nailing people for penny-ante bullshit. I am more than confident they’ll review every $100 autograph session and every $500 local car dealership appearance with the same thoroughness, delivering justice that is equal parts arbitrary and confusing.

Still, I can’t disagree with your core concern. Allowing college athletes to profit off their own names, images, and likenesses, will, as you say, lead to “potential complications.” The college athletics industry rests on one important foundation: the athletes get paid in scholarships and swag, not dollars. And even though NIL reform wouldn’t formally touch a dime that Duke or the ACC or any other stakeholder in college athletics gets (you won’t be cutting any checks, Kevin, though I’m sure you already knew that), the feigned sanctity of the business model disappears if Zion signs a $75 million Nike deal in college instead of as an NBA rookie.

A smart organization would have been prepared for that possibility and built a plan for “if NIL becomes a thing, here’s how we can make it work.” Not out of moral obligation, necessarily, but as a matter of risk management. A smart organization might have started that plan after Ed O’Bannon filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA related to his name, image, and likeness rights in 2009, or when EA Sports got out of the lawsuit in May 2014 by settling with the players for $40 million, or when the trial judge found in favor of the O’Bannon plaintiffs in August 2014. Even if every college president, athletic director, and conference commissioner thought athlete-controlled NIL rights would destroy the amateur athletic model, the smart thing to do would have been to plan for that possible future, right?

But instead of that, Kevin, y’all decided to hold the line in the media and threaten to bar California schools from NCAA events and ask Congress to fix your problems for you. Given years to prepare for what you and many of your colleagues see as a major challenge, you did ... well, nothing.

So now, yes, your job, and the NCAA’s, is very hard. And, again, I’m sorry. 2014 you should have made better choices.