LOS ANGELES — Jake Fischer had a feeling he wouldn’t be talking much football at Pac-12 media day. He was right.
Ever since the standout University of Arizona linebacker announced that he would be joining a lawsuit against the NCAA, he’s been a de facto spokesperson for student-athletes’ financial rights.
“We’re doing it for athletes to have more of a voice,” Fischer said Friday at the Sony Picture Studios. “A say in what goes on.”
Fischer and teammate Jake Smith recently joined Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson, Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham and Minnesota tight end Moses Alipate and wide receiver Victor Keise in a suit that claims the NCAA owes former players billions of dollars for using their likenesses without compensation.
There are 16 current and former athletes in the lawsuit, with the lead plaintiff being former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon. EA Sports, which publishes the NCAA Football video games, is also being sued.
All six of the current athletes are seniors, and the NCAA has agreed in writing that they will not be punished for joining the suit. Fischer is one of the biggest names on the list. Last season, he led the Wildcats with 119 tackles, but his coach is not concerned that his involvement will impact his play.
“It’s not a big deal to me,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I don’t believe in everything that the cause is looking at, but I do believe there are some things we could do better to help the student-athletes.”
Fischer understands that some have no sympathy for his arguments since student-athletes already get scholarship money, an education and a network of people to help them find work after college, but he noted some key differences between student-athletes and normal students.
“I haven’t been able to go out and work in the summer,” he said. “We have no time to go out and get an internship, so what do you do if you don’t go to the NFL after you’re done? Nobody knows what you’ve done. You don’t have any previous working experience.”
He also noted the myriad health issues that student-athletes face in competition from which universities profit.
“The normal student isn’t paying for knee replacements down the road,” he said. “I would like to see some guys get some health issues taken care of after football that otherwise they couldn’t get taken care of — just some assurance, post-eligibility.”
Rodriguez agrees with Fischer that universities are not fully supporting their student-athletes, but not for the same reasons.
“I believe in the amateur model. I don’t think we should pay student-athletes per se, like professional, because we have a professional league. We have the NFL,” he said. “But I think the NCAA and the schools had it on the right track with the extra $2,000,” he said in reference to a proposed stipend that was put on hold by the NCAA because of objections from mostly smaller schools.
“My simple solution is this: I believe that every student-athlete, walk-on or scholarship, in every sport, we should be able to feed them three meals a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — year-round and not have it come out of their check,” Rodriguez said. “As a parent, if your kid has a roof over his head and he’s got something to eat, everything else is OK. Right now, our guys are paying for their meals. That will go a long way toward improving the quality of life for every student-athlete.”
The idea of more money for student-athletes was broached frequently with players at media day on Friday, with most taking a wait-and see approach.
“People have gotten by without it before and will continue to do so if the rearview mirror doesn’t change,” Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. “If the money is allocated and used for the right purposes, it’s beneficial, but I think there needs to be potential regulation. Obviously, if the money is given to them, it’s their right to spend it, but for what use and purpose is that money allocated?”
Rodriguez doesn’t expect anything to happen with the suit before the season ends, so for now, he’s supporting Fischer as much as he can, and he’s not worried about the potential distraction.
“You think if it’s a fourth-and-10 to win a ballgame at the end of the game that I’m going to be thinking about — and they’re going to be thinking about — some lawsuit?” he asked rhetorically. “I’ve been in (lawsuits), and they’re not fun, but I ain’t thinking about them.”
Added Fischer: “Obviously, it’s a cause we believe in, but first and foremost, we’re here to compete.”