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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

University Of Delaware President: Unionizing Could End Sports Programs

University of Delaware president Patrick Harker says he would have to shut down his varsity sports program if student athletes won the right to be paid.(udel.edu)

University of Delaware president Patrick Harker says he would have to shut down his varsity sports program if student athletes won the right to be paid.(udel.edu)

Northwestern University college football players cast ballots last week on whether to unionize. The results of that vote are still unknown. Even if the players voted to join a union, legal actions could stall that from taking place for months or even years.

But the vote has stirred debate over whether college athletes deserve to be paid.

University of Delaware president Patrick Harker is a vocal opponent of paying college athletes.

He tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that 90 percent of colleges and universities don’t make money from their sports programs. Harker says he would have to shut down the University of Delaware’s varsity sports program if student athletes won the right to be paid.

“Don’t let the exception be the rule,” Harker said. “There are those programs that make a lot of money, but they are not the majority of Division I athletics. And I say this not just as a university president, but I was a student athlete too, many years ago, with many injuries ago. And I learned a lot out of that experience and I don’t want us to lose those opportunities for this generation of student athletes.”




It's HERE AND NOW, and it could be months before we learn how Northwestern University football players voted on whether to unionize. The players cast ballots last week, and if they vote to form a union, other private schools could follow suit. University of Delaware President Patrick Harker says that would be bad for universities and students. He's a member of the board of directors for the NCAA Division I and joins us in the studios. Welcome.

PATRICK HARKER: Thanks, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, you have said that unions would be a disaster for universities for student athletes. Why?

HARKER: Well, let's start off with the facts of Division I athletics. Most of us, the vast majority of us, don't make money on athletics. We do it, not to make money, but because we think it's important for the student athlete. And so if unions came in, and our cost increased, we'd have to cut sports and possibly cut all varsity sports in our case, because we just couldn't afford it anymore.

HOBSON: But some schools do make a lot of money on student athletics. I'm thinking of the University of Texas. It's more than $100 million in revenue per year. And we're looking at, for college football playoffs, the new TV contract, $7 billion over 10 years.

HARKER: Don't let the exception be the rule. What I worry about is there are those programs that make a lot of money, but they are not the majority of Division I athletics. And I say this not just as a university president, but I was a student athlete, too, many years ago with many injuries ago. And I learned a lot out of that experience. And I don't want us to lose those opportunities for this generation of student athletes.

HOBSON: But haven't things changed significantly since you were a student athlete in terms of how much money is at stake with these athletics and the games and the TV contracts and all that?

HARKER: For certain schools. At our level, FCS Football, or people would know it as 1AA football, when we're on TV, there's no revenue. We don't get that revenue. We're playing for the sheer love of the sport, for the opportunity that the students have and for our communities. And so again, we look at those few programs that make money, and we say everybody's making money, and it's just not true.

HOBSON: Let's talk about some of the other arguments that have come up because there have been several. An article in the Buffalo Law Review argues that the students are beholden to a coach who has the power to control and direct the athletes in the same way that employers control their workers. These are not really students in the traditional sense of the word.

HARKER: And I think that is a problem. First, don't label all universities the same. We try very hard to limit that so students get a real college experience and a real education. Are there institutions that don't do it right? Of course, that's true of anything in life. But we shouldn't use those as the examples. We should look at the bulk of Division I athletics in the U.S. and Division II and Division III. The vast majority of student athletes on our campuses today will never make a living in athletics. They need an education.

And if we are creating situations where the student athletes are not able to get that education, then let's fix that. Let's not make them semi-pros.

HOBSON: How do you fix that problem?

HARKER: I think we have to continue to push back on the expansion of athletics and the expansion of the amount of time students have to spend on it. And this is an issue not just at colleges. It starts in high school. Frankly it starts in middle school, where families are putting way too much emphasis on athletics.

It's generated by the fear of the cost of education. I understand that. So people think I need to get an athletic scholarship.

HOBSON: This is how I can get a scholarship. This is how I can go to school for free, right.

HARKER: It happens - my wife is a middle school teacher, advanced math middle school teacher. And parents will come to her saying you're giving my son or daughter too much homework, and it's interfering with their soccer games. These are seventh graders, eighth graders. When I say we have a problem in society, I really do believe that, and we, the universities, should be leading those changes and pulling back a little bit so that student athletes and students can participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities. One of those is athletics.

HOBSON: So how do we do that? How do we change that culture because it's not something that just exists in school. We just saw this whole controversy with Donald Sterling and the L.A. Clippers and somebody who clearly viewed his players in a different way than we would think he would view them.

HARKER: Yeah, that's a big question. That's the, you know, the question that everybody's debating right now. But I think it is the question we have to debate. I don't have the magic ball for how to do that, but I think that is the question. It's not about unionization. It's not about making college athletes paid employees. It's about pushing back on this and getting back to something where we're really looking at the long-term benefits and the long-term education of our students.

HOBSON: Some people may look at what you're saying and think that you're trying to be a union buster.

HARKER: No, I don't think it's a - I'm not a union buster at all. In fact we have a unionized faculty. We have unionized trades at our university. What I'm worried about is the students getting an education. That's why we're here. And we know - the evidence is - look at the evidence in the NFL. The average tenure in the NFL is three and a half years.

You graduate from college, you make the NFL, you're in your mid- to late 20s, and you're done. If you don't have an education, you're not going to be successful in your life.

HOBSON: What about injuries that athletes often suffer, that because of what they're doing, which does benefit the university, even if it's not a money maker in the end, that that is something that, if they were an employee of the university, it would be treated differently than the fact that they're a student.

HARKER: We take care of our student athletes when they get injured until they're healed. But let's - I don't think treating them as employees is the answer.

HOBSON: But if they were employees, and they were injured, they would be entitled to things like workman's comp benefits.

HARKER: So how would we do this? So think about this, right. So we make them employees. That means not only for the football and basketball players, but with Title IX, we have to do that with all our student athletes. Now our costs have gone up dramatically. How can we afford to keep doing this? We would just drop sports.

And I'll tell you what we would do at the University of Delaware. Most likely we would drop all our varsity sports down to club status because we simply could not afford to provide varsity athletics.

HOBSON: Well, what's wrong with that?

HARKER: Well, there's an argument there that it's possible that that is something that we should consider. The things that you take away are for the vast majority of our 600 student athletes, half of whom are on scholarships, are those scholarships. We're helping these young people get through college.

The vast majority of our athletic budget is scholarship money. It's not coaches' salaries. At our level, coaches are not making millions of dollars.

HOBSON: But you're doing that for what purpose? What does the University of Delaware get out of offering a scholarship to an athlete who otherwise, you're saying, would not have been able to attend the school?

HARKER: Well, we offer scholarships for music majors, for people in the band. So we offer scholarships for a whole variety of things. It's not just for athletics. We do that because we want a rich, diverse student body on campus, and we want to help those students achieve. So - and in addition for athletics, we also provide for the community, just like we do with our theater program and our music program, outreach efforts and ways so that the students can perform in front of them and learn their trade if in fact they want to be a professional musician or a professional athlete. But the majority are not going to do that.

HOBSON: But the part that you've left out of that is that often a lot of alumni donations come because people get attached to the sports. They love coming back to the games.

HARKER: The evidence...

HOBSON: And ticket sales and TV rights and all that.

HARKER: But again, we don't break even...

HOBSON: You're not making money, but some schools are.

HARKER: Some, but not the majority. And evidence - Bill Bowen(ph) and others have written about this - the evidence that alumni donations across American higher education are generated because of athletic success - the evidence there is very mixed.

HOBSON: Patrick Harker, president of the University of Delaware, and we will link you to his op-ed on this subject at hereandnow.org. Patrick Harker, thanks for coming in.

HARKER: Thank you.

HOBSON: And what do you think? Should student athletes be forming unions, or do you agree with President Harker that it is a bad idea? You can weigh in at hereandnow.org. You can also send us a tweet @hereandnow, @jeremyhobson, @hereandnowrobin. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • S David H de Lorge

    Gee. Would that be too bad?

  • Rick

    He’s absolutely right. .. Look at how many jobs the unions have sent to foreign countries due to their ridiculous pay/benefit demands.

    That being said, most college sports are dumb. If they lose money, shut them down.

    • paul

      Are we going to be importing student athletes?

      • RAOUL

        Yes if they receive an education and health benefits resulting from sport affiliated injuries.

    • Kinfolk

      Look at how many jobs the unions have sent to foreign countries due to their ridiculous pay/benefit demands.

      The job creators have sent jobs to foreign countries. They are the ones hiring, after all. Are middle class wages really ridiculous? I didn’t realize that middle class Americans were retiring to a life of opulence…

    • RAOUL

      They have been playing basketball with American players in Italy, France, Argentina and Japan for over twenty years.


    Unionizing ain’t going to end sports. What will be the results is coaches and educational institutions heads will be receiving cuts in pay which is long overdue. No coach or university should be paid one million or more or year. All athletes need to be protected from long sports injuries. The premise that a unionized college sport will inhibit an athlete from receiving an education is a junk argument. The love of a sport argument can only be argued so far. This guy (Patrick Harker) is just another lobbyist type arguing to keep his money along with protecting the those who are making fortunes from sports at a college or university level. Really this is not about the love of the sport it’s about the love of money, huge amounts of money.

    • superdestroyer

      It is more like that Division one football will shrink to about 60 schools and that most of the 300 schools that play Division I basketballl would drop their programs.

      Are people so excited to pay the players at Alabama and Ohio State and they are willing to give up on all non-revenue sports and get rid of March Madness?

  • jfane

    These guys are full of BS! They won’t get rid of sports as it brings way too much money into their schools. Of COURSE they don’t want to share it with the people who make it possible.. what else is new. The robber barons continue to exploit those who need help the most.

    • superdestroyer

      Delaware loses money on sports. If you look at http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/2011-06-23-2011-athletic-department-subsidy-table_n.htm you will see that Delaware currently loses over $20 million of its athletic department. If the university had to start paying the players, providing full workman’s comp, and paying for their Christmas trip home, then they would either have to close down the athletic program or cut it back to the point of football, men’s basketball, and enough womens programs to comply with Title IX.

  • Whitesauce

    Mr. Harker is just dishonest. He is holding up his school as though it is representative of all schools. Delaware is a Div. 1-AA school and probably wouldn’t attract the type of athletes that could demand pay based on their market value. Additionally, if his school cannot to treat his athletes fairly, then they shouldn’t offer sports. At his school, unionization would likely protect kids who are injured. The university doesn’t want to pay workers’ compensation. The school pays for immediate care only. Players with longterm injuries are not covered. Furthermore, every record I found indicates that the football program makes a profit. When he makes that claim in the media, he should be forced to prove it or the show should do its homework.

  • Kate Quick

    The president was asked if he was a union buster. Here and Now also comes off as union busters if you don’t give equal time and attention to interviewing the college athletes and union officials behind this drive to organize. There’s lots of new research out there about the explosion of university administration, which takes an increasingly large portion of the budget pie. It might take some reallocation of money and resources, but there’s no real reason these athletes shouldn’t be able to form a union, except that the administration doesn’t want to share its money. I hope you will give the student athletes and the union an equal opportunity to voice their view on this matter. It’s time to quit vilifying unions and organizers, and start vilifying the right people, including public university top administrators making hundreds of thousands of dollars off the backs of students and tax payers.

  • http://batman-news.com Samuel Onyeaka

    The players trained for 4 to 6 hours a day. Some professional players trained for lesser hours. Student Footballers are professional players making Billions of dollars a year for their schools without adequate compensations.

    Some of them only get Books, very few gets full scholarships. They cannot work to make end meet. Late Joe Pa received a pen from one of the PA Governors after signing the bill that outlaw any gift to players and now the school is fighting to stop them from getting their right.

    Pay them for the work they did for the schools or let them have their union.

    My suggestion is to ear mark ten percent (10%) of what they made each year and share it among the players, the school will bank each share to the student player’s name. Upon the player’s graduation, the school will turn over the account to the student.

  • dcorkill

    If any union gets in, they will drain the universities. They will not answer questions by the universities, they will impose their rules over all facets of university life, and will eventually force all students to pay dues, whether they are athletes or not. I know this from experience and I am not a Republican, I voted for President Obama and I think he should come out against unions.

    • Rick

      … and the money will be sent to the corrupt Democratic Party. Don’t expect Obama to ever come out against unions. It’s a major source of finding for their campaigns.

  • CowsomeLoneboy

    Donna Shalala made much the same kinds of arguments when interviewed on this subject on All Things Considered. Those arguments didn’t sound right then and they still don’t. Frank Deford has been making the case very persuasively that the characterization of the major collegiate sports–football and basketball–as amateur has been for a long time a sham that most toddlers can see through.

    What the vote at Northwestern proves is that the status quo that Mr. Harker and all his peers have been far too comfortable with for decades now has reached the point where those toddlers’ voices are finally being listened to. The horse has been out of the barn and grazing in luxurious pasteurs, and now Mr. Harker wants to complain that the remedy sought is ill advised? Why didn’t he say that what was ill advised was all the collegiate sports being given over to the NCAA which has failed the mission of serving the student athlete, the very mission that Mr. Harker invokes as his core motivation in providing athletic programs in the first place.

    When those such as Harker and Shalala get to the business of demanding and instituting real reform in collegiate athletics, which, let’s face it, may well mean the complete dismantling of the NCAA, then perhaps their pleadings will begin to take on the tone of sincerity and will command the merit they claim.

  • Frog

    How about we just change their description from “student athlete” to “intern” and instead of giving them +$40K of tuition, room and board per year we give them a “stipend”. Then we only have to pay them $8.60 per hour.


  • John

    Harker makes over $700,000 per year and is the highest paid public employee in DE. He makes more than the Governor and both US senators combined. It’s hard to take him seriously in a debate about scarcity of university funds.

  • Curmudgeon

    The whole world of sports, especially high school and college sports, is BS. We have completely and utterly lost our way. What began decades ago as simple fun and recreation has been turned into a business of dollars and egos, with emphasis on the egos. I think we all know that many, many athletes, especially at the college level, shouldn’t be in ANY university in the first place. They don’t have the grades or preparation for it. And we must remember, colleges and universities should be centers of ACADEMICS, LEARNING AND RESEARCH. The athletes are there to PLAY A GAME!!! Schools are NOT, or at least WERE not meant to be training grounds for professional sports. If a kid wants to play in the NFL, NBA, or MLB, then go play in the minors. If he wants an education, go to school. If a kid plays sports in college, then he must get a minimum of, say, 1400 on the SAT, then go to college and PLAY THE GAME PART TIME!!!!! And no million dollar coaches!! They make tons more than a college professor! Sports are simply entertainment!!!!! Believe it or not!

  • informedLI

    If you want to prevent workers from unionizing schools need to treat them well. They need to cover their sports related injuries, you need to give them a full scholarship- not a yearly one, you need to give them time to study ANY major they want to study. Schools need to treat athletes like students whose first priority is their education- not team employees whose first priority is their sport. If this was being done, there would be no reason for students to unionize.

  • Dan Wanderer

    University Of Delaware President: Unionizing Could End Sports ProgramsGood!

  • Dave

    Farm teams. Good.
    Get big bucks, sports entertainment out of education.
    Education, not guaranteed brain damage.

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