On January 1st, Oregon will play — and if Vegas is to be believed, beat — Florida State in the Rose Bowl as one-half of the college football championship semifinal. This playoff thing is kind of a big deal. The school will make roughly a metric shitload and the players... well, the players will get a swag bag and a hearty congratulations, but, you know, "amateurism."
But what if Oregon couldn't even go to the game?
Or at least, what if a sizable chunk of its players couldn't go to the game? That's a serious concern facing the school.
Unlike many institutions, Oregon's graduate teaching assistants (known as Graduate Teaching Fellows or GTFs) are unionized (UPDATE: A commenter helpfully pointed out that many institutions do have unionized GTFs — I was trying to note that the arrangement is not universal and got overly aggressive with my wording), and they're on strike because a university literally rolling in cash apparently can't put sick and parental leave into the upcoming contract.
What does that have to do with football? After dragging out negotiations for a long time, the administration suddenly realized, "uh oh, if these teachers are on strike through the end of the term, will our players end up academically ineligible?" NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168 requires that an institution has two weeks after the final scheduled exam — in Oregon's case, December 12 — to issue passing grades in order to compete in a bowl game. And what do you know, many of Oregon's GTFs teach courses.
This overwhelming sense of panic amongst the administration resulted in this half-baked unilateral declaration from Dean Judith R. Baskin, responsible for Humanities courses that students — and by that we mean players — might be taking.
Please be advised that should the GTFF strike continue to Dec. 12, I will enter the grade you achieved in COURSE up to December 1 as your approximate grade for Fall term. This grade will be based on the grading information given to me by your Instructor. If you wish you may accept this grade as your final grade. In that case, you need not complete any further work for this course and the grade I entered will not be altered.
The faculty didn't think this was nearly as clever a strategy and balked at the school employing capricious fiat to seize control over grades from the faculty. Per UO Matters:
The gist, which I believe the administration has agreed to, is that faculty are back in charge or grading – not administrators – and that the X grade is a viable option, although as the report notes this may cause a lot of administrative headaches involving financial aid (and may prevent a few football players from participating in the Rose Bowl championship semi-finals, etc., although as a tweeter notes there is an NCAA waiver policy...
Yeah, there's a waiver policy. Though no one should ever bank on the NCAA making sensible decisions. This is the same organization that considered it a violation to serve bagels and cream cheese at the same time.
It's easy to see the GTFs as villains here, threatening to crush the hopes and dreams of the school. But I guarantee the majority of those graduate students (assuming they didn't go to Washington for undergrad) want Oregon to win the Natty as much as anyone. Part of a negotiation is having leverage and now the GTFs — on the bottom of the power dynamic — hold the ultimate trump card. Instead of shamelessly trying to weasel out of negotiating, the school's got to face that shelling out for sick days is small potatoes in a world with German-built automatically-ventilating lockers.
Though the school probably recognizes that. At the risk of sounding cynical, this likely was never about sick days as much as it was about breaking the union, which is a despicable goal in the best of times, but right now even the most ardent Ayn Rand acolyte in the administration has to recognize it's just not worth jeopardizing the playoffs. The attempt to game the grades to rob the union of leverage should be this unionbusting strategy's last hurrah.
Negotiations ran late into the night and resumed again earlier this morning. If all goes well, the school and the union will reach agreement soon and Oregon can return to gameplanning without fear of losing a chunk of personnel (beyond their already substantial injury list).
But in the end, wouldn't Oregon not showing up be the perfect microcosm of every bit of dumb luck Florida State's enjoyed all season?
UPDATE: Strike just ended. Check here for a copy of Local 3544's announcement.