clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Stanford Clutches Its Pearls Over The Potential Improvement Of The Lives Of Its Students

New, 95 comments

This is disgraceful.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Uber. Air BnB. PanAm Airlines. These are all small American start ups focused on disrupting major American industries whether they are Big Taxi, Big Hotel, or Big Lighter-Than-Air Dirigible.

These spry young companies want to break the mold and create something new. They are being spurred on by a culture of disruption led by Silicon Valley gumption. Stanford figures prominently in this new era of disruption. I've heard Stanford referred to as an incubator with a football team.  They even have a class on how to create a disrupting start up at Stanford itself.

Look at that line up of instructors. From Thiel to Andreasson and so on, that's a 1927 Yankees of the people funding disrupters. So, you'd think Stanford itself would be better at handling disruption to its own interests. Yet, unlike Cal, it seems to be a shrinking violet in the face of historic changes in the college sports world. These historic changes take the form of two main alterations:

Unionization: This is not affecting Cal at all. It only potentially affects private schools, like Stanford. Here, there is a current case pending before the National Labor Relations Board about whether or not football players constitute employees who could unionize. An early decision has said "Yes" and the players at Northwestern have voted on whether to union, although the result has not been revealed at this time. This could potentially led to increased benefits for athletes at private schools.

O'Bannon: This refers to a lawsuit filed by Ed O'Bannon claiming that players' likeness rights (i.e. the rights to profit off of their own image) are being illegally usurped by the schools. Basically, the schools make the money off of the likeness of the players instead of the players themselves. A Court has already ruled in favor of the players, potentially requiring payments of thousands of dollars per year to athletes starting in 2016.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as the tectonic plates of college sports continue to move. There are too many to list here, but the bottom line is that the scales are starting to tip into the favor of the athletes more and more. As more and more people get concerned about potential exploitation of athletes in college, there is increased agitation for benefits.

For many schools, this is cause of concern, because they cannot financially afford increases in expenditures. Many athletic departments operate in the red and if you add thousands or even millions more in costs, it'll be a major challenge. So, some school are approaching this situation from that other.

Other schools welcome the changes.Texas has stated it will start paying its athletes $10,000.00. That is going to cost $10 million annually, which many school don't have. Stanford is not one of those schools.

Stanford is approaching this situation from a totally different angle than the first two sets of schools above. They approach it like a foppish dandy wholly offended by even the mention of these changes. They approach these changes like somebody who brought up politics AND religion at a cocktail party.  To understand this absurdly entitled arrogance, all you need to do is read this quite lengthy article from Stanford alumni magazine.

It is exceedingly long, but mind blowingly eye opening in just how much hubris Stanford truly has. Just read some of these phrases here:

Over the past five months, two challenges to the way the National Collegiate Athletic Association governs the treatment of student-athletes have called into question whether intercollegiate athletics can survive in its current form, and raised the specter that Stanford might be forced to choose between participating in big-time sports and preserving its educational values.


However, winning alone does not make a typical Stanford fan's chest swell. Hennessy believes, and many alumni agree, that support for Stanford athletics is contingent on keeping sports in perspective, always subservient to the primacy of the school's academic mission. Winning at the expense of academic and cultural standards would quickly erode that support, Hennessy asserts. Moreover, it would likely rupture the currently warm relationship between students who are athletes and those who are not. "Here we are, Nerd Nation," Hennessy says. "But not if we're paying players."


Hennessy is circumspect about how much Stanford can influence the outcome of the reform debate. "We're trying to decide where is the line we'd never cross, and then what are the implications of that. And what is the strategy we use. Either we have a lot of influence because we're seen in a sort of unique place, and perhaps by staking out a position we could give people courage to speak their values, or it might be nobody follows us.

The Lie

They are holding fast to The Lie. The Lie is the thing that has kept NCAA athletics together for the last hundred plus years or so. The leisurely student-athlete who comes to college, applies themselves in class, scores four touchdowns in a single game, and saves a bunch of grandmothers from a burning building. The Lie is that they get a free education and that is more than enough to offset the fact that they can't profit off of their own body and hard work. The Lie is that at some point in the past this kind of thing existed. The Lie is that in some murky yesteryear this halcyon golden age of college sports existed and has now been corrupted by money, money, money, money, and money. The Lie is a 1%er WASP who wants to stroke his beard and clucks his tongue, while wondering what is to be done that "they" are getting more power.

That is ultimately what this is about: power and control. The schools have had total power and control over almost all players up until now. A few superstars could dictate this thing or that, but for 99% of the players (and pretty much every non-rev athlete), they did what the school told them to do.

Stanford wraps its concern about this up in The Lie as these are a challenge to its way of life. Their "values." As an attorney, my clients have many "values." I have to tell them that basically the only thing that exists in this world is rational self-interest and that "values" and "principles" are meaningless in the face of power, money, and control. This article, however, states otherwise and says that Stanford could take their ball and go home:

While much remains to be resolved in policy circles and eventually in the courts, this much is certain: Stanford would reject some potential changes, even if it meant withdrawing from major college competition.


Adds Muir: "If our athletes are deemed to be employees, we will opt for a different model."


IF THE NLRB RULING stands and college players are classified as employees, or paid to play, Stanford may face an agonizing dilemma. Options will include abandoning big-time revenue sports altogether, continuing to participate but without offering scholarships, or perhaps joining a congregation of schools using a different set of rules.


If Stanford were to discontinue providing athletic scholarships, it could still help athletes offset their costs via standard financial aid offers. But it's hard to gauge whether that would make up for the loss of the scholarships. It might mean leaving the Pac-12 and throwing in with like-minded schools, probably other highly selective privates. (Imagine a conference made up of, say, Stanford, Rice, Vanderbilt, Duke, Notre Dame and Northwestern.) Or the Cardinal could simply play at the Division III level, where athletic scholarships aren't allowed. Admittedly, football games against Division III opponents in vast Stanford Stadium seem an unlikely prospect.

Stanford may abandon the Pac-12 if its athletes get more power or control over their situation. This isn't a financial hardship complaint (which may have some modicum of merit for other schools, but not at a place like Stanford that could easily afford to pay its players and provide them other benefits). This is a "our way of life" is being affected complaint, which means up next we'll see Stanford saying they are just arguing for "state's rights." "Outside forces" are the true problem here!

New Conference

What's interesting to me is that this article (which appears to have been written with the consent of the Stanford administration) lists the following schools as schools it could throw its lot in with in the NEW Traditional Values Conference:

Rice: Nobody gives a fuck about Rice.

Vanderbilt: Too busy suckling at the teat of SEC money to make direct eye contact with Stanford

Duke: That's a great point, Duke is definitely going to give up scholarships for its basketball team.

ND: NBC called, they said their ocean liners full of money are on their way.

Northwestern: If the football coach is a reflection of the people running Northwestern, then yes, they'll definitely join Stanford. But only because I'm blogging this bloggy blog about it all!

None of these schools are going to join Stanford in its kamikaze mission to divest itself from successful athletics. No other school in the nation would do that, because athletics make so much money for the schools. Everybody likes money. Nobody doesn't like money. Even if they have to take a bit of a haircut, they are still going to soldier forward. Athletics help raise community spirits, which bring in much needed donations. Stanford's endowments is in the billions and they haven't been shredded by Sacramento politicians like a certain university that I know and love. They could drop sports tomorrow and still be fine financially.

Remember, the beloved Bear Bryant's TAMU teams were put on probation for paying 60 years ago. This halcyon age never existed. There has never been, at any school at any time, a situation where the players were not being exploited in some way.

Stanford is no different. Even if Stanford does not need the money, they still make a significant sum of money on the backs of their athletes. They may try to trump their academics to show they are not exploiting their students like the others, but remember you aren't paying $40,000.00 a year to fail. Academics at private schools are not that challenging. Stanford likes to say that it holds its athletes to the same standards as the students, but they were directing their athletes to "easy" classes.

Plus, we're talking about undergrad here, not grad school. The dirty secret of college application is that, for the most part, undergrads get roughly the same education from school to school. There is not a different math taught at Stanford not taught at Berkeley or Chico State. Undergrads aren't doing research, aren't getting grants, aren't doing much of anything that genuinely benefits their schools.....unless they catch touchdowns or shoot baskets. Then, they make millions upon millions for their school.

I guess I should not have been surprised at the "I have the vapors" approach in this article. It reeks of entitlement and arrogance to say that Stanford is unique and different from all other schools when the model is the same. Convince athletes to come to your school, make lots of money off of their likeness/image, and then not let them profit off of their hard work. Maybe a Stanford education sounds fancier to most because it is a brand name school, but that is exactly what it is, a brand name. Like other Ivy Leagues, the education services the perpetuation of its brand, plain and simple. It's no different than the calculations Coca-Cola or McDonald's make to perpetuate their brands.

This article is the perpetuation of that brand. We're Stanford. We're different. We know that 2+2=5 and if you pay us $40,000.00 a year, we'll teach you that.

Do you think they'll actually genuinely drop athletics? Tell us in the comments and GO BEARS!!!