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Faculty Senate discusses student-athletes, conference realignment, NIL, and more

The Faculty Senate heard a presentation on the changing athletics landscape in relation to collegiate athletic conference realignment, the ability for student-athletes to monetize their brand, and more during its Thursday meeting.

While much is changing for student-athletes in regards to collegiate athletic conferences, their ability to monetize their brand, and more, Stanford remains committed to ensuring they are students first, said Faculty Athletic Representative Jeff Koseff during a presentation at the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

Faculty Senate Representative Jeff Koseff discusses the changing athletics landscape during a Faculty Senate meeting on Nov. 3, 2022. Koseff is director of the Change Leadership for Sustainability Program, the William Alden Campbell and Martha Campbell Professor in the School of Engineering, professor of oceans, and senior fellow at the Woods Institute. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“Academics are paramount and we will never deviate from them, but we’ve proved, and I think we’ll continue to prove, that we can succeed at the highest levels athletically without having to change fundamentally what we do about how we admit students, how we educate them at this university,” said Koseff, who is the director of the Change Leadership for Sustainability Program, and the William Alden Campbell and Martha Campbell Professor in the School of Engineering.

The presentation touched on a range of topics, including conference realignment, the concept of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), related legislation and litigation, the intense pressure facing student-athletes, and more.

“We’re very proud of the student-athlete model that we have at Stanford that functions at the highest level, where we pair academic excellence with excellence on the playing field,” said President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

“These students are really quite extraordinary, and to have them in your classes, it is really one of the jewels in the crown of Stanford, and it’s something that we should cherish, and that we wish to preserve,” he continued. “And we worry about how these external developments may affect our ability to continue to do this. So that’s really the starting point for all of this – the students come first, and they come first as students, but also extraordinary athletes.”

Shifting allegiances

Stanford has 36 sports that offer scholarships, and the university’s athletes own more national championships than any other institution while boasting a significant history of success in the Olympics, said Koseff, who is also a professor of oceans and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The university’s student-athletes excel both in their sport and in the classroom, he continued, with the Cardinal leading the Pac-12 in overall Graduation Success Rate for the 17 years that the statistic has been calculated.

For years, collegiate athletic conferences remained stable, Koseff said, but in recent years, conferences suddenly had the ability to negotiate media rights and “everything changed.” Earlier this year, the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), announced the schools would leave the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten by fall 2024, prompting instability and questions about what would happen next. This is an “incredibly delicate issue,” Koseff said. “It involves media rights and it involves all kinds of things, and it has enormous consequences for our student-athletes.”

In another issue of shifting allegiances, Koseff detailed the Transfer Portal, a compliance system launched by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 2018 to manage and facilitate the process for student-athletes to transfer between member institutions. Under this system, if a student-athlete declares a desire to transfer to another university, their current school has two business days to enter the athlete’s name in the database. Then, coaches and staff from other schools are allowed to contact the athlete to see if they’d like to visit their campus or accept a scholarship.

When first launched, the transfer portal was more restrictive; for example, coaches could veto a student-athlete’s transfer request, Koseff said. Not only can coaches no longer do that, but transfers no longer have to sit out a year if they put in their request during designated portal windows throughout the year.

“This is a pretty important challenge for us because we don’t play in this game. We simply do not, because of our admissions,” Koseff said, adding that Stanford accepts only about 50 transfers a year at the undergraduate level.

During the pandemic, student-athletes also received an extra year of eligibility because of COVID, which added to the likelihood of Stanford losing undergraduates student-athletes as graduate transfers to other schools, Koseff explained. But in some cases, it also led to graduate transfers coming to Stanford.

Another reason the transfer market is thriving is related to the concept of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), which means that college athletes can earn and accept money for doing commercial endorsements, appearances, social media posts, writing books, hosting camps, giving lessons, and performing other commercial activities outside of their schools.

Up until recently, student-athletes were not permitted to monetize and benefit from their name, image, and likeness, unlike other students who could develop a brand and benefit from it, Koseff said. The question facing Stanford now is “how are we going to do that?”

In Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, California college student-athletes could receive third-party compensation as a result of their NIL beginning last year. The NCAA has tried to say that NIL can’t be used for recruitment, but in actuality, the rule isn’t being enforced, Koseff said.

“NIL is used for recruitment, NIL is used for inducement, and NIL is not enforced in the way that was originally envisioned,” Koseff said. There is federal legislation coming up to address these issues, such as the Collegiate Athlete Compensation Rights Act, which would enshrine in federal law the right for student-athletes to earn compensation for the use of NIL, while also protecting students and their families from deceptive business practices.

Also, under Senate Bill 1401, also known as the College Athlete Race and Gender Equity Act, California universities would have to create a revenue-sharing arrangement for athletes. SB1401 stalled in committee earlier this year.

Stanford has created a committee to explore how to create a Stanford approach to NIL, Koseff said. At this time, Stanford has 103 student-athletes with at least one deal, with a total of 278 deals.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year in NCAA v. Alston that the NCAA cannot limit education-related benefits for student-athletes. As such, NCAA and its member schools can no longer cap grants-in-aid to tuition, fees, room, board, books, and other expenses up to the value of the full cost of attendance. Institutions may reimburse expenses pertaining to other education-related benefits such as computers, equipment, and other tangible items not included in the cost of attendance calculation, as well as up to $5,980 in cash awards related to education. Furthermore, the NCAA can no longer limit internships for college athletes after eligibility expires.

Also, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued a memo in support of potential unionization of student-athletes as employees of a university last year.

In fiscal year 2022, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) earned $134.1 million in revenue – including $37.77 million in endowment payouts and nearly $40 million in broadcast and NCAA/Pac-12 cash flow – and incurred $145.6 million in expenses related to varsity sports – including $39.5 million in coach compensation and $30.51 million in scholarships.

Looking ahead

Student-athletes face tremendous pressure, Koseff said. “It’s amazing what they do and how they succeed, but it has a price, and from the point of psychological services and mental health, it’s big.”

Within all the discussion around the needs of student-athletes, there needs to be consideration of gender equity across sports, Koseff said, which will in turn have an impact on the budget.

In attempting to address these many concerns, Tessier-Lavigne said, in July, the Pac-12 commissioner was authorized to open media rights negotiations.

“What we want is to make sure that we can continue to provide an exceptional academic and athletic experience to our extraordinary student-athletes, and also to be part of a competitive conference that is stable, and also financially viable,” he said, noting there are other considerations in the ongoing negotiations, such as scheduling. The commissioner has also been authorized to consider potential expansion opportunities and whether it would be desirable to add other schools to the Pac-12.

Tessier-Lavigne said the 10 remaining universities in the Pac-12 after the departure of USC and UCLA are focused on working with its commissioner to strike a deal that would be good for the conference, but the timeline is unclear.

In her comments, Judy Goldstein, the Janet M. Peck Professor of International Communications, a professor of political science, and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, said there are many faculty who are ambivalent about athletics, and that if there is going to be a structural deficit, the university must have a campus conversation about the trade-off between athletics and what “I think most of us think is the essential thing that the university is supposed to do, which is education.”

In his response, Tessier-Lavigne said that athletics needs to be self-sustaining through a combination of revenues and philanthropy, which is an ongoing goal.

Michael Boskin, the Tully M. Friedman Professor of Economics and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, said “it’s incomplete to think somehow … student-athletes are separate from the rest of our students.”

Boskin said students have repeatedly told him that student-athletes are a big part of their experience at Stanford. “ Our student-athletes live with the other students. They’re not separate dorms or fed separately like in a lot of other places … They’re an integral part of the Stanford experience of undergraduates.”

Juan Santiago, the Charles Lee Powell Foundation Professor and professor of mechanical engineering, questioned what he described as an “extraordinarily high fraction” of sports offered for scholarships relative to Stanford’s student population.

Bernard Muir, the Jaquish and Kenninger director of athletics, responded that it is high compared to some schools like Ohio State, which has nearly the same number of sports as Stanford but far more students, but it is low compared to Ivy League schools like Harvard.

“We’re trying to balance both,” Muir said. “We’re doing academics at a high level, similar to the Ivies, but we’re trying to compete at the highest level [athletically], and that’s where we’re unique, and that’s part of the fabric of the place. That’s the challenge that we’re facing.”

Philip Levis, professor of computer science and of electrical engineering, noted how the diversity of student-athletes at Stanford is significantly different than the rest of the student population and asked if there’s a sense that many sports at Stanford are ones of privilege, and whether that has implications for diversity and equity.

Muir agreed that it can be an issue, but said “a place like Stanford has a chance to become even more diverse and attract the best and brightest, and I think we’re going to have to follow that trend and see what happens.”

In memory

Senators also heard memorial resolutions for James F. Fries and Marion Lewenstein.

Fries, 83, was a professor emeritus of medicine, and he died Nov. 7, 2021.

Lewenstein, professor emerita of communication, died March 6, 2021, at age 93.