College Sports as Business and Slavery

curt-floodMany years ago most professional athletes would start and finish their careers with a single team. This wasn’t always their choice. It was the choice of their team. When they were traded to another team, they would have no choice in the matter. They could be readily sold “down river”.

In baseball the “reserve clause” tied a player to his team for his lifetime. The player was essentially considered chattel or property. In 1969, Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause in a case that made it to the Supreme Court of the United States. The reserve clause said that if you played for a team you were bound by duty to play for the same team the following year. A few players had tried to challenge this before Curt Flood, but with baseball’s exemption from anti-trust laws, they had failed. Curt Flood had experienced racial injustice before by being prevented from moving into a house he had leased by the owner who did not know he was black when the lease was signed. Flood sued and won. He was the right person to challenge the reserve clause.

He was told it would be impossible. None of his teammates or active ball players stood by him. A retired Jackie Robinson was one person who did stand with him. In the end, he lost in the Supreme Court. There was a twist however. The decision stated that he was right, he should be a free agent, but only congress could change the antitrust exemption it had granted professional baseball. So that left an act of congress and negotiations of the Players Association to fight and agree to free agency for, in this case, baseball.

Now, more than 40 years later, the NCAA, which should support the rights of student athletes stands complicit in preventing young athletes, even after a single year in college from easily moving to another school. There are many reasons why an athlete may want to change schools. He may find a better academic program, better athletic/academic integration, a better shot at starting, a coach that is better suited to his style, or a coach that doesn’t have Jerry Sandusky as his assistant.

There seems to be something wrong when a system, and a coach can be so vindictive as to prevent a college freshman from transferring to nearly 40 colleges at the end of his freshman year. In this case it is Oklahoma State and their coach who has ruled out almost 40 universities for quarterback Wes Lunt. The NY Times called this “an apparent show of gamesmanship and punishment for a college athlete who wanted to take his skills elsewhere”.

In business there are non-compete clauses. These may keep someone from participating in the same business for a time or they may prevent someone who was employed from opening up the same type of business just down the street. The similarity here seems to be to not having Lunt compete directly against the school in the same league. But going as far as to create nearly absolute limits on ease of transfer. Forty universities can not offer Lunt a scholarship and he will have to sit for a year. The loss of scholarship is significant with the price of colleges being as crazy high as they are. Sitting for a year for a rival college may be valid, but for a school in another league without direct competition seems unfair. This problem exists in other college sports including basketball. Who will stand up for the student athletes? It looks like this will appear for one day in the news, and then fade. As far as the title of this blog entry goes, an entire college thesis could be written on it. We’ll leave that task to another.

Note: Not long ago, I read recently of an entire chess team moving with the coach. I imagine since it wasn’t “chess-boxing” it was considered a club and not a sport.