KU coaches opine on Dartmouth basketball ruling, evolution of college sports

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas head coach Brandon Schneider calls out a play against BYU Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Allen Fieldhouse.

As Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self noted Thursday, college athletics is certainly not the first industry to ever endure a significant transformation.

“This isn’t the way the pharmaceutical business was seven years ago,” Self said. “Or this isn’t the way the trucking business was five years ago … We all go through changes, and right now, we’re just in a change.”

But college basketball has certainly been subject to one seismic shift after another in recent years. And a harbinger of the latest major change arrived this past Monday when a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Dartmouth men’s basketball players are employees of their university and can unionize.

“We’ve been dealing as amateur coaches and not general managers, as such, for such a long time that it’s definitely interesting times,” KU women’s basketball coach Brandon Schneider said on Tuesday’s edition of his “Hawk Talk” radio show.

The NLRB’s initial determination has put college athletes on the brink of attaining employee status, which could result in significant changes in terms of how players earn compensation and the conditions under which they are able to work: “I would assume it would be no different than any other sport, professional sport,” Schneider said, “in that things are collectively bargained and then you operate under the guidelines that everybody agrees upon.”

Dartmouth reportedly plans to appeal the decision, and while Division I it is also a non-scholarship private school, so this lone ruling may not necessarily be the final blow to the NCAA’s widespread existing model of the amateur student-athlete.

However, Schneider said that employee status for college athletes seems like an inevitability, and “it’s just how soon does that become our reality.”

“I think as coaches, our biggest questions are if they are (employees), are there going to be multi-year contracts, and is there going to be a salary cap,” Schneider said, adding that the salary cap could govern name, image and likeness compensation, or payments directly from a university (which are generally forbidden under current rules). “I think that would be something that is really, really important if we want to have any parity at all.”

Self, for his part, said he isn’t as knowledgeable on the Dartmouth ruling as some others, and that the situation with NIL and related labor considerations is “so up in the air and so indecisive that it makes it hard for people to operate not knowing certain things.”

He said that while at one point in his career he might have wanted to be at the forefront of shaping policy in college athletics, the yearslong saga in which KU was accused of severe NCAA violations — which just ended this past October with minor penalties, six years after a federal investigation into college basketball and four years after KU received its allegations from the NCAA — changed his mentality.

“We spent five or six years dealing with something that created more angst and frustration than anything that I’ve ever been through,” Self said, “and I’m just like, ‘Whatever you do, just let me know and then we’ll adjust,” adding that he has “absolutely zero interest in trying to get ahead of something.”

He said he probably has some good ideas for improving college sports but that he doesn’t plan to lobby for them to get implemented, and “certainly with what I’ve gone through the (last) five years, they’re not going to ask me anyway, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time worried about some crap that they’re not even going to ask me about.”

“The sport has been so good over time and it will get good again,” Self said. “We will figure it out. It will balance out. We’re just at a point now in college athletics where everything’s up in the air.”


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