Do Not Exempt the NCAA from Antitrust Despite Escalating Assistant Coaches’ Salaries

The defensive coordinator at Clemson University earns upwards of $2.2 million dollars a year for developing the team’s defensive game plan, overseeing position coaches, and calling the defensive plays during a game.[1]On the other side of the ball, the offensive coordinator at Alabama earns over $1.6 million, while his offensive line coach and tight end coach earn $650,000 and $540,000 respectively.[2]In fact, NCAA member institutions with a Division I football program paid out, collectively, more than $318 million dollars to assistant coaches during the 2019 football season. Interestingly, no one forced the university’s president or athletic director to pay these exorbitant salaries, they choose to do so on their own.

However, escalating coaches’ salaries are a concern within college sports. According to Florida Athletics Director, Scott Stricklin, “I think one of the biggest challenges we have in college athletics is what our coaches are making. They are in a market that allows them to enjoy those kinds of salaries, but I do think the optics of it are not helpful.” His worries were echoed byTom McMillen, a member of the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland, who stated, “The biggest problem in college sports right now is spiraling coach salaries.” 

So, what, if anything, couldbe done about these ‘spiraling assistant coaches’ salaries’? What, if anything, shouldbe done about it? 

An easy and straightforward option for the NCAA would be to enact a rule limiting what an assistant coach could earn annually. But then again, maybe not since the NCAA attempted this back in 1989 when it established the Cost Reduction Committee. ThisCommitteewas tasked with finding various ways to reduce costs associated with intercollegiate athletics, all “without disturbing the competitive balance.” One way the Committeefound was to restrict compensations for assistant coaches of Division I sports (other than football) to $16,000.00 yearly. This proposal was accepted by the NCAA and became known as Bylaw 11.02.3. Assistant basketball coaches affected by this new By-law filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA challenging the salary restriction under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

In 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, in the matter of Law v. NCAA[3],affirmed a lower court’s decision when it rejected the NCAA’s procompetitive rationale for the restricted earnings rule by finding “. . . we need not consider whether cost reductions may have been required to ‘save’ intercollegiate athletics and whether such an objective served as a legitimate procompetitive end because the NCAA presents no evidence that limits on restricted earning coaches’ salaries would be successful in reducing deficits, let alone that such reductions were necessary to save college basketball.” The Appeals Court in upholding the lower court’s finding that the NCAA was in violation of federal antitrust laws when it implemented the restricted-earnings rule, also sustained the permanent injunction barring the NCAA from reenacting the compensation limits and ordered it, the NCAA, to pay over $22 million in damages that was trebled to $67 million.[4]

Therefore today, if the NCAA again tried to create a rule limiting what a member institution could pay assistant coaches, even if more narrowly tailored than its predecessor, it would face the same antitrust challenges, presumably without much of a difference in the end result.

So, what then could a powerful, influential organization do when faced with the possibility of implementing a rule that they know would be in violation of federal law? It can change the law. And this is exactly what the NCAA is attempting to do. 

At the end of the 2019 congressional session, Representative, Donna Shalala (D -Florida)[5]proposed federal legislation that would provide the NCAA with an antitrust exemption so that colleges and universities could limit or cap salaries through the creation of a national commission aimed at reforming college athletics. Per Representative Shalala, “I’m mortified at these (coaches’) salaries, we have not been able to slow spending or expenditures.” 

But isn’t such a proposal, allowing the NCAA monopolistic power, extreme given the concerning history of allowing sports entities antitrust immunity: Major League Baseball, the Broadcasting Act of 1961, and the NFL/AFL merger – to name a few?

Major League Baseball has had immunity from antitrust suits, and the time-consuming and costly litigation involved with defending such claims, since 1922 when the U.S. Supreme Court ‘granted’ it an antitrust exemption. In Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs[6]the U.S. Supreme Court found that the game of baseball itself is not “commerce amongst the States” and therefore, federal antitrust law does not apply.[7]As a result, an antitrust exemption for MLB was born and with that the ability for its franchise owners to control their business without the fear of court intervention or oversight. Great for MLB, not so much for its players, because the exemption allowed franchise owners to continue enforcing the reserve clause within players’ contracts which significantly depressed players’ salaries for an additional fifty years. 

The National Football League, on the other hand, has used the powers of Congress to garner two limited antitrust exemptions. First, in 1961, the NFL received an exemption which permitted it to ‘pool’ broadcasting rights so it could sell them as a package, with the revenue to be shared equally by all of the teams. By enacting the Sports Broadcasting Act, Congress purposefully overruled a federal court decision which found that the NFL’s method of ‘pooling’ television rights violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.[8]The Sports Broadcasting Act turned out to be a greatdeal for the NFL, but not so much for the television networks. Due to the limited ‘pooled’ inventory of games, the networks ended up out-bidding one another, with the winner paying a premium price to the NFL to air its games on Sundays.

Second, in 1966, Congress granted an exemption to the National Football League and the American Football League that allowed the two to merge into one, single league. Up until then the two competed for players, which, because of the laws of supply and demand, led to an increase in player salaries. The exempted merger, however, eliminated this competition and as a result, a significant drop in player salaries followed.[9]Great for the NFL, not so for the players.    

So, based upon the fact that previous antitrust exemptions, secured through either a court’s decision or via legislation, have significantly benefited various sport properties, while at the same time adversely affecting those who would impact their economic interest, why is Congress pushing legislation that would allow the NCAA to operate as a legal monopoly?  

The answer to that question comes from the belief that an antitrust exemption would allow the NCAA to restore academic integrity within college athletics. The argument being that much of it has been lost over the years as the powerful hierarchy within the NCAA has shifted the mission from that of amateur athletics and the student-athlete, to that of revenue which can be generated through television rights, sponsorships, and post-season games. “I don’t think the NCAA can be fixed because of who is running it,” said Donna Lopiano, the former Director of Women’s Athletics at the University of Texas and founder of Sports Management Resources. “What needs to happen, take the power away from the member institutions. Someone has to say: These are the conditions under which to operate. Congress has the power to do that . . . think of the academic pieces that could fall into place if we returned athletics to what it should be.” While others such as Ken Starr, former federal judge and U.S. solicitor general, believe it would be good for the NCAA because the exemption would stay off lawsuits. “The idea of the antitrust exemption is to allow the industry to be self-regulated and not to be resolved in courthouses.” 

However, many, including the National College Players Association, are concerned that giving the NCAA too much immunity would put anyone that opposes it in a much worse position when it comes to both economics and rights. “This is an attack on college athlete rights, period. To strip them of the protections of antitrust laws, the same laws that every other citizen of this country is protected by,” said NCPA President Ramogi Huma. “Coaches, they are completely asleep at the wheel. They think they’re untouchable, but they’re not. They will be in the same place as college athletes because the universities will have the power to cap coach salaries and ban third party sponsorships.”

Adding to the difficulty of having two very powerful and opposing interests, there is still the question of whether or not there is the necessary ’political will’ within Congress to move this controversial antitrust legislation forward? Representative Charlie Dent, (R-Pennsylvania), does not believe so. “My sense is that an antitrust exemption would be difficult to grant given the experience with Major League Baseball and that’s led to an arms race of different sorts,” Dent said. “I just believe an antitrust exemption is going to be a very high bar.” Also, Gary Roberts, former President of the Sports Lawyers Association, does not believe that this issue is politically palatable at this time. “This will go nowhere. There is no political will at this time to move this issue forward.”

But, regardless whether there is the political will or not, the question remains as to why Congress is pursuing legislation that, in essence, would dictate what an individual could earn in his or her chosen profession? In the United States, market forces determine value, so why are you against allowing assistant coaches the right to put their services out on the open marketplace so that they could be paid what someone else feels their services are worth?[10]

In addition, why is Congress concerned about slowing the spending or expenditures of NCAA member institutions when it comes to assistant coaches’ salaries? That’s the job of the university president or athletic director. If a president or athletic director doesn’t want to pay these ‘spiraling salaries’, they don’t have to. College athletics does not work like or have the same market conditions as a ‘regular’ business because there is no concern about maximizing profit. If the president or athletic director believe it is in the best interest of its university to pay the escalated assistant coaching salaries, presumably at the expenses of professor salaries, student benefits, or other institutional advancements, so be it. If their ‘spending or expenditures’ need to be slowed, this is a matter for the university’s Board of Directors to deal with, not Congress.

And finally, allowing the NCAA an antitrust exemption is an extreme measure in light of the fact that previous exemptions within the sports context have typically only helped one party – the established sport institution. There is another party that Congress needs to concern itself with, the student-athlete. Allowing the NCAA antitrust immunity would put an end to any advances these athletes have fought for over the past years; such as larger scholarship stipends, and name, image and likeness rights, just to name two.

            So, to answer the question of whether anything couldbe done to thwart the spiraling cost associated with assistant coaches’ salaries. The answer is yes – request Congress grant the NCAA an antitrust exemption. But even if an exemption could be so narrowly drafted to withstand antitrust scrutiny, the political will, especially within the current climate where athlete rights are a central concern, is limited. 

To answer the question of whether anything shouldbe done to thwart the spiraling cost associated with assistant coaches’ salaries, the answer is again, yes, definitely something should be done. But that something needs to be left up to the college and university presidents and athletic directors, not Congress, nor through an antitrust exemption.



[3]Law v. NCAA, 134 F.3d 1010 (10th1998).

[4]The case ultimately settled for $54 million.

[5]Notably – Shalala is the former university president at Wisconsin and Miami who won the Florida’s 27th Congressional District House seat in 2018.

[6]Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200 (1922).

[7] 209. (This may have been logical at the time since the Leagues were merely umbrella organizations only responsible for arranging schedules and setting rules.  The “business” aspect of the game was an entirely local function, run by the individual franchises. At this time, there was no revenue sharing, no broadcasting agreements for either radio or television, and no national sponsors or licensing deals).

[8]United States of America v. National Football League196 F. Supp. 445 (E.D. Pa.1961-07-20) (“I am therefore obliged to construe the Final Judgment as prohibiting the execution and performance of the contract dated April 24, 1961, between the National Football League and the Columbia Broadcasting System.”).

[9]Ethan Lock, The Scope of the Labor Exemption in Professional Sports, 1989 Duke L.J. 339, 404 (1989).

[10]A question frequently asked by my students – “How does one determine what to pay an athlete?” The answer -The value of an athlete’s services is exactly what someone is willing to pay for them.

Amateurism and College Athlete Compensation in Connecticut and Beyond.

The Sport and Entertainment Section of the Connecticut Bar will be hosting a panel discussion today, June 9, 2020 at 6:00pm to discuss Amateurism and College Athlete Compensation in Connecticut. Panelist Nate Lavalle (Senior Associate University Counsel – UCONN) and Robert J. Romano (Assistant Professor of Sport Management at St. John’s University) will discuss how Connecticut is responding to the growing movement calling for more equitable opportunity to be compensated for the use of collegiate athletes’ name, image or likeness (NIL) or at least for athletes to receive a share of the college or university’s/NCAA’s revenues in connection with the use of athletes’ NIL, California passed sweeping legislation last year providing for athletes to be able to receive compensation for use of their NIL. The NCAA has also haltingly reversed its decades long policy of forbidding athlete compensation. This sea change in the bargaining power and marketability of college athletes has led other states, including Connecticut, to explore legislation that would similarly allow talented athletes to receive fair compensation for their NIL.

This program will explore the legal issues surrounding college athlete compensation and the legal and professional interests of the various parties in the equation—the athletes, the colleges and universities, third parties and, of course, the NCAA. The program will discuss compliance issues for colleges and universities, the goals of protection for athletes and whether the regulatory architecture on the issue facilitates the goal of fair compensation, the future of amateurism and the universe of athletes affected by this change, and the potential for federal legislation.

Please feel free to join in on the conversation.

The Buckeye Pledge: A Pledge or Waiver of Liability?

For the year 2018, the Ohio State University’s athletic department generated $205,556,663.00 in revenue,[1]$110,000.000.00 from the football program alone.[2]The revenue from football amounted to more than a $20 million, a 23%, increase from the 2017 season,[3]and a $42 million, or 47%, increase from the 2013 season.[4]This is not all profit however, as there are significant expenses associated with to fielding a Division I football team. 

First, there is the cost of the 85 student-athlete scholarships that are paid out of the football team’s annual budget to the University every year. The cost of tuition at Ohio State averages, for out-of-state students, around $32,000.00 per year.[5]That amount, multiplied by the number of Buckeye players ‘on scholarship’ cost the Ohio State football program an average of $2.7 million a year. In addition, there are facility expenses, travel and recruiting costs, of course coaches, trainers, and the football staff need to be paid, and medical expenses.  Medical expenses?  Yes, the Ohio State athletic department pays out approximately $1.47 million in medical expenses for all of its Division I athletic teams annually – less than 1% of its annual revenue.[6] But, in the time of a global pandemic, medical expenses can be a complicated and problematic issue. Therefore, the Ohio State University athletic department has ‘asked’the 85 members of the football program to be ‘team players’ and assist the University in the fight against COVID 19 by swearing to do everything they can to help combat its spread. The athletic department has even given it an amusing name –The Buckeye Pledge.

The Ohio State Buckeye Pledgeinvites its football team to “help stop the spread of COVID-19” and accept the fact that he, as a student at Ohio State, may be exposed to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Within this two-page electronic document, the student-athlete agrees to testing and potential self-quarantining, to monitor for symptoms, to report any potential exposure in a timely manner, and to practice Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.  Additionally, and without question, the player, along with his parent(s), are required to sign the Pledgebefore returning to campus for voluntary workouts, workouts which began on June 8, 2020.  If the player and/or his parent(s) fail in signing or complying with my Buckeye Pledge, the student-athlete could immediately be removed from any and all athletic participation privileges and forfeit the use of any of the campus’ athletic facilities.

“That’s why we call it a pledge,” Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith stated. “We don’t look at that as a legal document. It’s a Buckeye Pledge.Allow us to help you so that if we face a situation, our trainers, our strength coaches, our coaches or any athletic administrator sees a student-athlete not wearing a mask or not social distancing, we can say, ‘Hey, you made a commitment. You signed a pledge. Your parents signed a pledge. Your parents are a part of this.'” “You’ve got to make a commitment,” Smith said. “If you’re going back to your apartment, with your roommates or by yourself or whatever, or if you choose to go out and have dinner somewhere now that places are reopening, you need to wear a mask. You need to social distance. We’re hammering our kids on that concept. Social distancing is the biggest challenge we’ve been having. They’re kids. They want to be close to one another.”

It is interesting to note, however, that according to this Buckeye Pledge, the athletes and their parents must accept the fact and understand that COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus and that it is possible that the athlete to catch the disease even if safety precautions recommended by the CDC, local health department, and others are followed.  In addition, the student-athlete must understand and acknowledge that he can never be completely shielded from all risk associated with COVID-19 or any other infectious diseases, while a member of the Ohio State football team or as a student at the University.[7]This section, the second to the last paragraph of the Buckeye Pledge, is the troubling part since the student-athlete may or may not understand is that this paragraph changes the Buckeye Pledgefrom that of just a pledge, to that of an assumption of risk and perhaps a waiver of liability. Yes, by signing the Buckeye Pledge the athletes are assuming all risk and may be waiving any rights or recourses against the University regarding issues surrounding COVID-19 or ‘other infectious diseases’.

See, this Buckeye Pledge,or waiver of liability, is, for all intents and purposes, a legally binding contract between the athlete and the University, especially since the student-athlete’s parents are also required to be signatories.  By signing thePledge, the student-athlete may unintentionally or unknowingly agree that Ohio State University, together with its coaches, trainers, medical staff and employees, are to be held harmless, and therefore not legally responsible for any and all negligent or reckless actions or deeds committed by Ohio State or its employees associated with COVID-19 or other infectious diseases – whatever they may be.

It is important that the student-athlete and his parents know, however, that laws regarding waivers vary widely by state, and interestingly, the State of Ohio does not recognize the validity of all forms or types of liability waivers. The law of Ohio requires that waivers are to be strictly construed against the drafter, in this case the University, if the language shows any ambiguity.  More importantly, however, the student-athlete may seek rescission of the contract if the terms of such are considered unconscionable, which, under Ohio law, means “the absence of meaningful choice on the part of one of the parties to a contract, combined with contract terms that are unreasonably favorable to the other party.”[8]  

The athlete also has a reasonable argument that he did not have a ‘meaningful choice’ as to whether or not to sign the Buckeye Pledgesince failing to do such meant that he faced the possibility of ‘immediately being removed from any and all athletic participation privileges and forfeited the use of any athletics facilities.’[9]In essence, what the student-athlete was faced with was a Hobson’s Choice – whether you will have this or none.  In addition, the deadline for the student-athlete to sign the Buckeye Pledge, June 8th, was purposeful since, per NCAA rules, if a school plans on not renewing a student-athlete’s scholarship, it must notify the athlete in writing by July 1st.[10] Since in most cases the coaches decide who receives a scholarship and whether or not it will be renewed, it is not a far leap to believe that if the athlete did not sign the waiver by the deadline, he faced not having a scholarship at the end of the month.

But what of this word unconscionable? The word by definition means – shockingly unfair or unjust. The fact that the Ohio State University athletic department and its Athletic Director Gene Smith[11]feel it is in the best interest of both the University and its student-athletes to shift any and all liability it may have as an institution for any negligent or reckless acts regarding COVID-19, onto the student-athletes is without question unfair.  To shift the burden onto the backs of the young men who perform each and every Saturday during the fall months in front of hundreds of thousands of fans, the ones that help in generating over $110,000,000 annually for the athletic department, the ones who are not compensated more than the value of an athletic scholarship that could be taken away at any time or for any reason by an unhappy coach or athletic administrator, is the very meaning of unjust. 

And what about the NCAA?  How is any of this in the best interest of the student-athlete? How is Ohio State’s Buckeye Pledgein accordance with and in the spirit of NCAA Article 2.2 which reads – Intercollegiate athletic programs shall be conducted in a manner designed to protect and enhance the physicaland educational well-being of the student-athletesand Article 2.2.3 which reads – it is the responsibility of each member institution (which Ohio State is) to protect the health of, and provide a safe environment for, each of its participating student-athletes?

In addition, isn’t it the NCAA’s duty and obligation, that if its member institution fails in doing so, to protect the student-athlete from exploitation.  The Buckeye Pledgeis the epitome of exploitation and mistreatment of a student-athlete at the hands of the Ohio State’s athletic department and the NCAA needs to do what is right by its student-athletes and force Ohio State to repeal and rescind such a Pledge.

[1]Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

[2]Colombo, Hayleigh, Countdown: Ohio State Sports That Bring in the Most Revenue, and Post the Biggest Losses, Columbus Business First, October 5, 2019.


[4]Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

[5]Ohio State University website

[6]Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

[7]Specific language used in the Buckeye Pledge: “I understand COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus and it is possible to develop and contract the COVID-19 disease, even if I follow all of the safety precautions above and those recommended by the CDC, local health department, and others. I understand that although the university is following the coronavirus guidelines issued by the CDC and other experts to reduce the spread of infection, I can never be completely shielded from all risk of illness caused by COVID-19 or other infections.”

[8]Pruitt vs. Strong Style Fitness, 2011 WL 4842485.

[9]The Buckeye Pledge.


[11]Gene Smith’s annual salary equals $1,000,000 annually, plus $420,000 in supplemental compensation for media and other responsibilities.  He is also eligible for up to $130,000 in annual bonuses.

NASCAR Decides to Ban Confederate Flags – How is this still a thing? 

On April 9, 1865, over 155 years ago, the traitor known as Robert E. Lee surrenderedto General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Yes, for some it may be hard to believe, but the Confederate States lost the Civil War – it surrendered, yielded, resigned, gave up, quit, came in second out of two. The turncoat and collaborating Confederate army, the one that turned its back on its own nation, pitted brother against brother, decided to tuck its tail between it legs, threw up its hands, waved the white flag of defeat, and went home. See, that is one thing we all need to remember, the Confederacy lost, and all those who fought on its behalf, were traitors to the United States of America.

 Interestingly though, the flag flown by the traitorous Confederate army wasn’t the one known as the ‘rebel flag’ or the ‘southern cross’ that has been flying over NASCAR events and SEC football games for the last seventy years. That ‘flag’ has no association with the so called “Confederate Southern Heritage’.  The original Confederate flag, the ‘stars and bars’, went through three different variations during the Civil War, but the ‘current rendition’ wasn’t one of them. That ‘current rendition’ was rejected as an official emblem and only came to be associated with the Confederacy long after of the Civil War.

In 1948, almost 100 year after Appomattox, the segregationist group known as the Dixiecrats, the political party whose slogan was ‘Segregation Forever’, adopted the ‘southern cross’ as its symbol. In the following years, it became an even more important part of the segregationist movement and was featured prominently on the 1956 redesign of Georgia’s state flag, a legislative resolution that was in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. So, it is without question, nor is it debatable, that the ‘southern cross’ or the ‘rebel flag’ or whatever you want to call it, is nothing less than a symbol of racism, prejudice, discrimination, hate, and segregation. And if you need further proof, the flag in its current version is commonly associated with white supremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

So why are we now, as sports fans, in 2020, applauding NASCAR for banning the flag at all of its events and properties.  NASCAR, as a U.S. company that has been around, coincidentally, since 1948, should have banned this icon of racism, segregation, and hate years ago.  But, finally, in 2020, the racing organization has decided that the presence of the flag “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and industry.””Bringing people together around the love of racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sports special.”  My question is – “What took you so long?”  NASCAR should not be applauded for its recent decision – it should be shamed for taking so long to come to such decision.

Additionally, for those who are no longer willing to attend or support NASCAR because of its long overdue position, you, the Confederate flag wavers, are the current traitors to this country. That flag is a symbol of systemic racism that has plagued this country for over a hundred years, it is hate speech in its purist form. That flag, and what it symbolizes, has no place in these UNITED STATES, not at a NASCAR race, an SEC football game, NOWHERE!

The International Olympic Committee Bans Political Statements at the Games – Again, the IOC is on the Wrong Side of History

During the 2016 season, one-time professional quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sparked a national argument by ‘taking a knee’ during the ritual playing of the national anthem before every National Football League game. Kaepernick’s symbolic, unspoken protest was a way for him to create awareness of various social issues surrounding the continued subjugation in this country of black people and other people of color.  After the end of the 2016 season, however, Kaepernick became a free agent, and has remained unsigned ever since, even though his body of work compares favorably to various quarterbacks who have secured positions with other NFL franchises. In all actuality, Kaepernick was ‘blackballed’ by NFL owners because of the attention he brought to the forefront regarding social injustices that still prevail and plague the United States some fifty years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

 But Kaepernick is not the only athlete, or in some cases group of athletes, who has been ‘punished’ by the predominately white-male sport hierarchy after speaking out on issues regarding race and basic civil rights. Throughout the modern history of sport, athletes such as Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Syracuse 8, the University of Wyoming Black 14, Craig Hodges, and Serena Williams (to name only a few), have had their athletic careers negatively affected, and in some cases ended entirely, by the sport establishment when they decided to speak openly about various social injustices that disproportionally affect people of color.

Since most of the above-named athletes are now celebrated as trailblazers, being held in the highest regard, why is the International Olympic Committee still on the wrong side of history and instituting stricture rules to warn and punish athletes who use their platform to speak out on racial injustices.  Wouldn’t it seem sensible for the IOC to learn from the past, i.e. 1936 Games in Berlin, 1968 Power Salute, and ousted Israeli athletes Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett, and instead of punishing athletes, come to their support and partner with them in an effort to raise the overall social consciousness of our society? 

At a time when Roger Goodell and the predominately white male hierarchy of the NFL seem to be showing some indication that they are finally beginning to understand the issues surrounding social justice, the IOC is still hanging on to its old, racist, and archaic way of thinking.

Specifically, the IOC has now officially warned athletes not to participate in specific forms of political protest at the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo. Forms of protest include, but are not limited to, kneeling, political hand gestures and wearing or holding signs or armbands. The IOC drafted a three page guideline to fortify Rule 50 of the International Olympic Charter,which states in part, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” “We needed clarity, and they wanted clarity on the rules,” Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission stated, “The majority of athletes feel it is very important that we respect each other as athletes.”

The guidelines specifically ban gestures like those of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Colin Kaepernick, and a number of others,[1]each of whom sought to draw attention to racial injustices that have been happening to various people of color throughout the world. In addition, not only are the athletes banned from demonstrating on the field of play, they are also barred at the Olympic Village, during medal ceremonies and during Opening and Closing Ceremonies.[2]

Now per the IOC, athletes who “protest” will face disciplinary action instead of receiving support and encouragement in creating awareness to a number of social issues and injustices that plague our society today.  Since numerous sport scholars and practitioners believe that sport serves as a conduit for advancing social change through values associated with democracy, justice, and human rights, the IOC, again, is on the wrong side of history.

[1]Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed his wrists at the finish line of the men’s marathon at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro to show support for civil rights protesters in his home country. Americans Race Imboden, a fencer, and hammer-thrower Gwen Berry were placed on probation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee in August after demonstrating on the medal stand at the Pan American Games. Imboden knelt during the national anthem, while Berry raised a fist.

[2]Note – The guidelines also apply to trainers, coaches and officials.


Reebok and a number of Crossfit athletes are cutting ties with fitness firm CrossFit, after founder and CEO Greg Glassman controversially tweeted “It’s Floyd-19” in response to a tweet about racism being a public health issue.

Reebok ended its exclusive 10-year deal as a CrossFit sponsor and licensee of CrossFit apparel. The sportswear company stating: “Our partnership with CrossFit HQ comes to an end later this year. Recently, we have been in discussions regarding a new agreement, however, in light of recent events, we have made the decision to end our partnership with CrossFit HQ.”

Professional CrossFit athlete Rich Froning and four time CrossFit Games winner criticised Glassman’s comments to his 1.4 million Instagram followers, saying the last few days made it “impossible to stay loyal to leadership who make callous statements that alienate and divide in a time when unity is needed.”

CrossFit Games champion Tia-Clair Toomey said she was “incredibly saddened, disappointed and frustrated” at the company and Glassman, adding: “My future with Crossfit is unclear and depends on the direction of HQ.”

Other CrossFit Athletes including last year’s second place competitor, Noah Ohlsen, announced he would not compete in this year’s games.

CrossFit affiliate gym Rocket CrossFit, based in Seattle, said it will disaffiliate with the company, and in a blog post published a profanity-laden letter from Glassman that attacked the gym’s co-owner, Alyssa Royse, of trying to brand CrossFit as “racist”.

CrossFit games supplier Rogue Fitness, which provides strength training equipment to the event, said it would remove the CrossFit logo from this year’s event and will “work with CrossFit Games leadership to determinethe best path forward.”

Glassman sparked outrage on Sunday after referring to the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in police custody as ‘It’s FLOYD-19’. His tweet was a direct reply to a post from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that read: “Racism and discrimination are critical public health issues that demand an urgent response. #BlackLivesMatter.” Glassman later apologized on the CrossFit twitter page, saying: “I, CrossFit HQ, and the CrossFit community will not stand for racism. I made a mistake by the words I chose yesterday. My heart is deeply saddened by the pain it has caused. It was a mistake, not racist but a mistake.” As of Monday morning, Glassman’s original tweet on his personal account is still live.

CrossFit has stayed noticeably silent on Twitter and Instagram on the Black Lives Matter movement as a host of companies publicly took a stand on anti-racism following Floyd’s death. Interestingly though, CrossFit has previously pledged public support for the LGBT community, as well as dedicating its ‘Hero’ workouts to fallen soldiers.

Isabel Togoh

How Much are College Athletes’ Names, Images and Likenesses Worth?


While the impact of pending NCAA rules changes or new state laws cannot yet be calculated, a valuable marketplace already exists for student-athletes to monetize their Name, Image & Likeness (NIL) in the near future.

Social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter or YouTube are likely to be the first place athletes can go to create new value for themselves.

INFLCR created a multi-dimensional formula to assess athletes’ per-post value for branded content on social media. INFLCR’s formula takes into account a variety of factors beyond followers on social media, such as team performance, sport played, and size of the conference, and has been established to help athletes and other collegiate athletic programs understand the impact and opportunities that NIL may provide for their athletes.

Combining INFLCR’s approach each Instagram follower at $0.80, the NIL team also reviewed the potential annual advertising value for INFLCR partner Duke University, specifically the members of the 2019-20 Duke men’s basketball team.

2019-2020 Duke Men’s Basketball Roster: NIL Valuation

At the top, a star athlete such as freshman All-American Cassius Stanley, with a following of more than 513,000 on Instagram, had an estimated annual value on the platform of $410,720. This represents an audience that could command more than $15,000 per post, according to INFLCR’s formula, and would rank among the top 5 athletes in the NCAA, according to ADU.

ACC Player of the Year Tre Jones, with more than 385,000 combined followers across Instagram and Twitter, has an audience valued at more than $308,000.

At the bottom, a player having as few as 14,000 followers (but playing at a very high level in a big conference) could potentially command a rate of more than $400 per post on Instagram.

For players such as Stanley and Jones, these social followings will certainly have potential to be lucrative on the next level regardless of whether they are in college at the time of any potential rules changes.

The 14 players on the Duke roster had a combined Instagram following of 1,545,400 (tops in college basketball), an audience estimated at more than $1.2 million in annual advertising value.

The same players had a combined audience of 175,000 on Twitter, representing a cumulative audience value of more than $139,000.

Collectively this represents more than $1.3 million in value that could have been available to student-athletes on the Duke basketball team.

“For 95 percent of college athletes, their college careers will be the best time to grow and leverage their personal brands. Unless America knows you on a first-name basis like Zion or Kyrie, fan affinity and networking opportunity peaks in college,” said Duke men’s basketball Creative Director Dave Bradley.

“Therefore, it’s crucial for athletes to understand and maximize their brands from day one — and the best way to do this is through social media.  The potential changes coming to allow athletes a greater ability to capitalize on their name, image and likeness would only amplify the incredible importance of social media to a college athlete in any sport. Not just the Duke player with a bigger following than 75% of NBA guys.”

There is potential for significant revenue for top-line NCAA players, but the INFLCR review of Duke’s following found that even those players who have not yet established stardom on the court or large followings on social media could potentially create revenue opportunities for themselves.

How Athletes Will Develop Their Social Media Valuation

As the NIL landscape evolves, these numbers make it clear that many athletes will arrive on their college campuses with a potential value already established. Moving onto the stage that is collegiate athletics, within the team brand they represent, will add value to their audience and increase their opportunity to both grow their follower count and their bank account. 

For others, the spotlight of college athletics will provide the opportunity to exponentially grow their following after they arrive on campus. A follower total of a few hundreds can grow quickly for an athlete when they sign with a college as a recruit, or begin to make plays and gain more notoriety on the field of court.

“As social media has evolved, athletes have been empowered with their own media channels,” said INFLCR founder and CEO, Jim Cavale. “And the current generation of student-athletes have embraced their social media platforms to a degree that will afford them many new opportunities that athletes before them never had.”

Of course, it isn’t enough to just have followers. To create maximum value in the market, the athletes must also be compelling storytellers. Authenticity and consistency are keys to success, says Cavale, whose platform INFLCR empowers 100+ NCAA teams like Duke to easily distribute content from team and national-media sources directly to the players’ phones in real time.

When Duke athletes leave the court, they find their phones stocked with content in their personalized galleries within their INFLCR app to tell the story of the big moments they create.

Cavale believes the best approach is to empower the athlete with a wide array of content to tell their own story in their own voice. Ninety percent [or more] of an athlete’s social media posts should be organic or editorial storytelling with no monetization, meaning the other 10 [or so] percent of their social media posts provide a branded content opportunity between the athlete and endemic brands, in the form of a paid endorsement campaign. These posts are much more powerful and authentic, within the context of the programming that athletes’ followers are accustomed to seeing, when the athlete is proactive on the editorial storytelling aspect of their social media.

Paid posts without this foundation of organic storytelling simply won’t be as effective, he says, and ultimately will not achieve maximum value for either the athlete or the brand he or she represents.

“An athlete’s ability to post and post often, with a variety of content that tells your story on the field or court and off of it, is essential,” Cavale says.

“This requires education to know how and when to weave your personal story into your social media channels, as well as real-time access to content that is being created around your story each day by your team’s media staff and other external media outlets. Posting a diversified set of storytelling content to your social channels, paves the way for the monetization of your social media posts with branded content.”

In essence, the landscape of social media becomes an opportunity to grow. Leveraging the spotlight to grow a personal brand becomes just another extension of their collegiate experience to develop — just like working out in the weight room, practicing on the field or court and taking care of their bodies with good training and nutrition.

INFLCR will continue reviewing the social media and NIL valuations for partners and other collegiate athletic programs, to help them prepare for future realities as the NCAA continues to unveil new recommendations and policies for review. 

Author: Tim Stephens.

NCAA Approves Recommendations for College Athletes to Profit from Endorsements and Social Media

The NCAA took a significant step approving recommendations that allow student-athletes to receive income for third-party endorsements, as well as social media opportunities, other business ventures and personal appearances that fall within certain guidelines.

“Throughout our efforts to enhance support for college athletes, the NCAA has relied upon considerable feedback from and the engagement of our members, including numerous student-athletes, from all three divisions,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and president of Ohio State University.

College athletes would be allowed to identify themselves by the school they attend and the sport they play, but would not be able to use conference or school logos or trademarks, the board said.

The board wants its recommendations to go into effect at the start of the 2021-22 academic year.