Saturday, June 15, 2024

How historic NCAA settlement will affect MSU sports, bring up Title IX issues

June 2, 2024
Michigan State Athletic Director Alan Haller speaks to the press regarding Head Coach Mel Tucker at Spartan Stadium on September 10, 2023
Michigan State Athletic Director Alan Haller speaks to the press regarding Head Coach Mel Tucker at Spartan Stadium on September 10, 2023

On May 23, the National Collegiate Athletics Association, or NCAA, announced that it, along with the five biggest conferences in the nation: Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference, will pay upwards of $2.8 billion to settle a number of antitrust lawsuits and claims, which will completely change the way collegiate sports is driven.

This decision allows universities to pay athletes directly. The affected universities, including Michigan State, will be able to use approximately $20 million each year and can decide how to divide up the money among programs and athletes. The earliest this settlement will begin is during the fall 2025 semester.

According to Sportico, the deal would resolve the antitrust claims in which "college athletes argue they are owed compensation for money they could have earned in video games and broadcasts, and through their name, image and likeness," or NIL.

NIL deals became effective in 2021, allowing student-athletes to receive compensation in exchange for organizations using their name, image and likeness. Because these deals were recently approved, the new NCAA settlement would pay around 25,000 Division I athletes who were “denied the ability to make money by marketing their names and images” when they were in college. 

With this new deal comes many questions about the future of college sports and athletes as well as how universities will ensure a steady Title IX relationship with the extra revenue — especially Michigan State University — a college that gets a lot of its sports revenue from football and recently dissolved its 99-year old swim and dive team, a prominent Title IX battle.

On Tuesday, May 28, MSU Vice President and Athletic Director Alan Haller, women's basketball head coach Robyn Fralick and men's ice hockey head coach Adam Nightingale attended and spoke at the 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference, where the three of them discussed the "new reality" of college athletes with NIL deals and new transfer portal criteria.

Haller said the new NCAA settlement is a good step and a useful revenue-sharing piece that will help reset the university with athletics. 

"I'm an advocate for it, and I think it’s a good thing," Haller said of the settlement. "There's a lot of money that flows through college athletics, and I think it’s the right time for student-athletes to participate in some of the revenue."

Fralick said the recent NIL deals have changed dramatically and the process overall has been "much trickier to navigate." However, Fralick said the new settlement with NIL deals and the new transfer portal rules can work together to create great outcomes for the athletes.

"The portal and NIL sort of happened at the same time, but they're really different, but the connection matters because those two have worked in a lot of ways, interchangeably," Fralick said.

The new policy regarding the transfer portal is that athletes can transfer an unlimited number of times without penalty. Also, the NCAA is required to restore a year of eligibility for current athletes who missed a year of playing since the 2019-2020 season.

Chris Solari, the MSU football and men's basketball reporter for the Detroit Free Press, said it will be interesting to see the consequences of the new settlement in the future because the NCAA is fixated on football — the main revenue driver for many colleges — and not the underappreciated or smaller sports, which can create many problems for the university. 

"The agreement itself on the face looks nice, but there's so much work to be done," Solari said. "This is a one-way settlement, quite honestly. This is the NCAA agreeing to do something, but it still doesn't have the tacit approval of the players and the athletes, which I think is going to be interesting."

Because the NCAA is fixating on one or two sports that are the main revenue drivers, issues regarding Title IX are susceptible to emerge. 

MSU's Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance declined to comment on the matter. 

It’s known that Michigan State's big three sports are football, hockey and men’s basketball — the only sports where students pay for entry. However, with the new settlement, the university needs to be wise with how it distributes the new money, Solari said. 

"Michigan State has 20-plus programs with men's and women's athletes. How are you going to pay them? How are you going to abide by Title IX, which, for these schools, is a real thing," Solari said. "(Title IX) is something that has been a problem at the university level across the country. We still see Title IX stories of inequity, and whether it be spending, facilities or any number of things that always end up in federal court. The reality is that the money’s got to go somewhere."

Though Solari, among others, has suspicions that Title IX issues may arise out of this new settlement, especially with MSU, Haller said the university will continue to use its resources and revenue in a way that benefits all student-athletes.

"We used our resources in a way that allows all of our teams, all of our student-athletes, to be successful. That's important to us; that's important to Michigan State, and that’s going to continue to be something that we’re going to do moving forward," Haller said. "Things are changing. The way we're going to use our budget will change in the near future. However, there's still going to be equity, opportunity and excellence."

If the university irresponsibly uses the allocated $21 million per year, certain sports may be cut — like the swim and dive team — or benefactors will most likely step up to donate more money to the programs. Benefactors, Solari said, are "ultimately what you're going to start seeing more and more of" and donors will become de facto program owners and shape the direction of the program.

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Challenges and issues between men's and women's sports may come up and the "mechanics of athletes will be scrutinized," Sportico said. 

"Michigan State has got to be able to allocate the resources for the players that these coaches believe can be building blocks," Solari said. "It's such a complex situation right now for the smaller sports."

Another possible issue with the new settlement is the human element of the athletes. Some prefer more money and deals, while some prefer team chemistry and better attitudes toward teammates, coaches and the game in general. With this new deal, and even since the previous NIL deal in 2021, teams and sports may become more individualistic. 

Even coaches at MSU have seen what can happen with the new transfer portal that makes it easy to leave one school for another.

Coaching under this new legislation hasn't been straightforward, but as Nightingale said about his team, the coaching staff has to continue doing its job and create a successful team.

"I have no control, and there are rules that are set up now, and our job is to follow the rules and try to build the best team that we can," Nightingale said. "The best thing for our coaching staff is, 'This is your group of players and you got to help them get better,' and I think that helped us get a little traction. I did tell myself coming into this, and I told our staff, 'We're not going to coach afraid of the portal. Coach how we believe that kids need to be coached; hold them accountable; hold them to a wise standard.'"

Fralick said there's a strategy with the portal and finding players that best suit the team's needs, an advantage she's used from the deal. And, even with how easy and accessible it is to leave a team, Fralick said it doesn't affect her mentality with the players.

"I think with the portal, the way we've used it, we really feel strategic about it. There are some real needs that we might know we have, and there are pieces that you can find with that," Fralick said. "I think there are parts of (the portal) that have really helped our game; I think there are parts of it that have really hurt our game. But what I will say is that when I’m at practice, or when I’m on the sidelines in the game, or when I’m in a locker room, nothing's changed."

Overall, Haller approves of the new deal and all that comes with it, saying MSU can help "empower, educate and innovate" the student-athletes.

"Empower our student-athletes to take advantage of this landscape and what’s going on, but then make sure that they're using their brand in a way that does not hurt them in the future," Haller said. 

The school also aims to educate the athletes by helping them understand tax laws and contracts and the information they need to help them with anything that's going on in the national landscape. Finally, the school wants to make sure that the athletes, and the university overall, are on the front edge of what’s going on with deals. 

"I'm not an advocate for: 'This is the end of college athletics.' I don’t believe that," Haller said. "I think this is a new era of college athletics. It's an opportunity for our student-athletes to participate in the revenue piece."

Seeing how the university will distribute the allocated money this upcoming year will be interesting, as well as how the student-athletes will respond to new deals and more money. Though Michigan State is a football-centric school, it will need to act carefully with its allocated funds to avoid more Title IX issues.

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