Sometimes it’s hard to separate the sin from the sinner.

John Pennington gives us a “be careful what you wish for” warning about where the O’Bannon case could be headed.  I understand his underlying point that the suit could have a disastrous effect potentially on smaller revenue programs, but ultimately, doesn’t his argument boil down to empowering the NCAA and its big player members to keep up the status quo because it’s better for smaller schools to hang on to what little they’ve got than to let student-athletes trade on their names (like everyone else can) after they’ve left college athletics?

As for being blinded by hatred for all things NCAA, doesn’t the organization deserve even the slightest amount of blame for public sentiment?  If you give them a blank check to continue as things are, it’s hard to see how the NCAA ever takes steps to rein in the arrogance and short-sightedness that’s been a major factor in how it’s widely perceived.

If nothing else, O’Bannon is useful for shining some light on how these people operate.  Accountability has been sorely lacking.  Maybe a little sunshine is needed.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit are requesting new depositions after the NCAA filed statements last month from major college sports leaders who discussed deemphasizing college athletics if athletes share TV revenue. The NCAA opposes reopening discovery as a class certification hearing date nears in June.

Court documents filed last week show the plaintiffs want to depose 12 of 28 declarants who oppose the attempt to certify the case as a class action, including Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Texas Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds and SEC Executive Associate Commissioner Mark Womack.

To quote the judge in Law and Order, counselor, your client opened the door.  Should people like Delany be held accountable for the rubbish (Pennington’s word, by the way) they’ve thrown out about the consequences of an adverse decision in the case?  Absolutely.  Is it possible they could be shamed enough to begin to see a reasonable way out of the mess they’ve helped create?  Well, I’m not sure shame is in Jim Delany’s vocabulary, but at worst it can’t hurt.

The reality is that the chase for the last dollar has twisted the logic behind the NCAA’s stated mission of amateurism – something which at its heart I still value, believe it or not – to a point where its defenders stopped making sense a long time ago.  All that’s happening now with O’Bannon is that they’re being called on it.  Call it hate if you want.  It feels more like frustration to me.

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50 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

50 responses to “Sometimes it’s hard to separate the sin from the sinner.

  1. Monday Night Frotteur

    Why would anybody in the modern era value amateurism? The entire concept is offensively elitist and has mildly racist historical roots. It has no place in a pluralistic, capitalist society.

    • Well, shoot. Let’s start paying eighth-graders!

      • Monday Night Frotteur

        If they do something legal that generates revenue and there’s a market for their services, why not?

        IOW, if people are willing to pay 8th grade LeBron James a lot of money to play for their old middle schools, why not let him and his family get paid? If your concern is exploitation, it’s a lot more exploitative to sell tickets to, and televise, his games without paying him than it is to do so while paying him.

        the NCAA’s stated mission of amateurism – something which at its heart I still value, believe it or not –

        I do not believe it. Do you know the history of the concept, why it was created and who it was used against?

        • I don’t have a problem paying kids. I have a problem with schools/boosters paying kids to play.

          I’ve always thought a minor league set up for football would solve a lot of the tension with the NCAA’s inept defense of the concept. Unfortunately, the NFL doesn’t agree with me.

          • Monday Night Frotteur

            I have a problem with schools/boosters paying kids to play.

            Yes; the question is, why do you have a problem with that?

            Why do you have a problem with schools/boosters paying kids (more than the capped amount they are paid now)? What’s wrong with markets? Why have you accepted the substantive merits of a Victorian philosophy that was created almost entirely to keep lower classes (and immigrants!) out of sports?

            I think that the NFL and NBA could mitigate some (but not all) of the NCAA’s unjustifiable exploitation, but why should they be relied on to rectify somebody else’s wrong? What do you think would happen to NCAA football if the NFL expanded roster sizes and allowed teams to draft kids 18 years of age?

            • Why have you accepted the substantive merits of a Victorian philosophy that was created almost entirely to keep lower classes (and immigrants!) out of sports?

              But it doesn’t anymore, does it?

              I think NCAA football would survive a world of professional 18-year old players just fine, thank you.

              • Monday Night Frotteur

                But it doesn’t anymore, does it?

                True amateurism was abandoned by the NCAA member schools in the 1950s, when Grant in Aid scholarships were allowed and then used, and abandoned by other sports (Olympics, tennis, etc.) in the 60s and 70s. We’ve moved so far beyond it as a society it barely exists anymore.

                Currently, the concept of “faux-amateurism” is being used to keep a relatively powerless class (young, frequently poor revenue athletes) from enjoying a market wage while everybody else in the system gets market wages. Athletic Directors get 6 (in DeLoss Dodds and Dave Brandon’s cases, 7) figure salaries and leave jobs for higher paying jobs. Coaches make millions and leave jobs for higher paying jobs. Defensive line coaches are now making $200,000/year salaries and being poached by schools. Tickets aren’t free, and the same artificially high prices for food and drink I see at the MLB stadium I see at the CFB stadium. You can’t bring beer and a picnic basket in anymore. Every single aspect of modern college sports is market-based except what the players are paid. Like Jay Bilas says, “The idea that every person in the system except the athlete can be paid at market rates is just laughably stupid.”.

                You still haven’t explained why you like the concept of amateurism. I think that’s a huge advantage for the anti-NCAA side; we know why we don’t like the NCAA, and don’t like faux-amateurism (or even true amateurism). Do you know why you like it?

                • Personally, I think those guys get inflated market rates, because the excess revenue that would otherwise go to paying the people on the field/court can go to the coaches and administrators instead, creating an artificial bubble they are afraid is about to burst.

                • If the NCAA were the sum total of “markets”, I’d agree with you. Totally. But nobody’s prevented from starting up a professional league that caters to kids who don’t want to go to school and won’t be drafted by the NFL for three years.

                  If the NCAA were preventing the creation of such a market to protect its cartel, that would be enough in my opinion to bring the whole rotten house down. But that’s not what it’s preventing, or at least not what’s at stake in O’Bannon.

                  Put it this way: if a viable league for 18-year olds opened up, would you have a problem with the NCAA adhering to its “faux-amateurism”?

                  • I wonder, how profitable is minor league baseball? It certainly lacks the billion dollar TV deals you see in college football, or college basketball. But would that become the model? Lesser, attendance driven profits for a developmental NFL league for kids, with reduced attention on college football as the talent is split between college and pros similar to college/minors baseball?

                    • Darrron Rovelll

                      But minor baseball systems are subsidized by their major league counterparts.

                    • Prior to Branch Rickey, a lot of minor league baseball was profitable.

                      The difference between present-day minor league baseball and college football is that the former is a fully owned and operated serfdom. As a fan, there’s no point in being personally invested in a minor league pennant race, because nobody on the team side is.

                    • That’s not true though Senator. While they have agreements with their Major League Clubs, several minor league teams are owned separately from their big league partners. The guys who bought the Texas Rangers owned Myrtle Beach before buying Texas, which is why they left the Braves minor league system once the Texas deal went down. Cal Ripken owns 3 Minor League Clubs, including the one in Augusta. All 3 have different big league partners. It seems like these clubs, while not turning a big profit, at least have some positive cash flow for outside entities to own and operate them.

                    • They may own the teams, but if they’re being supplied with talent by a major league partner, they’re operating the team in accordance with their partner’s instructions.

                      Let’s put it this way: Johnny Power is the MVP of his AA league. His team is in the thick of a pennant race when Sept. 1 rolls around and the major league team wants to call him up, much to the dismay of the minor league owner. Who do you think calls the shot there? And why should local fans care passionately about that team, given the reality of the situation?

                    • Also, I think the typical case is that the profit comes in the form of resale moneys, not so much from operations.

                  • Monday Night Frotteur

                    You’re arguing for the prosecution here, counselor. The fact that the NCAA arrangement has cornered the market on college football is an indictment, not a defense.


                    if a viable league for 18-year olds opened up, would you have a problem with the NCAA adhering to its “faux-amateurism”?

                    Yes! Why should there be a league operated by an anti-labor cartel agreement anywhere? You still aren’t answering the “why” question, counselor. You criticize the NCAA for failing to make the case for amateurism, but you (and most who defend the NCAA) don’t seem interested in doing so either. What are we getting from a system of upward transfer away from revenue athletes? All I see us getting are what Patrick Hruby calls “Gold Plated Athletic Departments.”

                    If you want amateur sports, watch club sports. That’s the last bastion of amateurism left, and while it’s not very entertaining to my eyes, perhaps that’s your bag.

                    • Why should there be a league operated by an anti-labor cartel agreement anywhere?

                      You kidding? That’s pretty much the standard business model for all organized sports in this country, admittedly to varying degrees. It’s the result of giving competitive leagues some form of antitrust protection and/or publicly supporting a quasi-socialist business model (thanks, Atlanta hotel tax!) and then watching the league owners use their outsized market power to squeeze labor costs down.

                      It’s the American way.

                    • Monday Night Frotteur


                      You kidding? That’s pretty much the standard business model for all organized sports in this country

                      Those sports get the non-statutory labor exemption because they have collective bargaining agreements, and the unionized players have extracted 50% or more of league revenue, not the <5% unrepresented college revenue athletes get.

                      Man, look at where all the new TV revenue is going in baseball. Something like a half-billion in contract extensions last week alone. Guys like Elvis Andrus are getting hundred-million dollar guaranteed contracts. The new TV revenue in college sports goes straight into coaches and AD's pockets. Maybe there's some sort of great benefit society gets from that upward transfer, but I haven't seen anybody make a convincing case. Most people are just saying different versions of "I don’t like change“.

                    • Baseball got it pre-Marvin Miller because the Supreme Court thought it was a good idea. And if the owners had drafted a better reserve clause, they might still have it.

                      If you think CBAs are really the result of free give and take, maybe you can explain why the unions keep disbanding in hopes of raising antitrust challenges.

                • Marktheshark

                  No one is saying the 18 year old can’t get paid for his/her services. They’re just saying that they can’t get paid while playing a sport sponsored by the NCAA. No one forced the athlete to play a sport sponsored by the NCAA. The fact that there isn’t another viable option is not the NCAA’s fault (or problem). The NCAA says that you can play a sport sponsored by us in a member institution if you follow our rules. If you don’t like the rules: that’s fine, no hard feeling. You can play somewhere else.

            • James

              “What’s wrong with markets?”

              There’s always been evidence that unchecked markets don’t universally work, and often have disastrous outputs. It sounds like you’re advocating for an unchecked market.

              The point about the history of amateurism as an aristocratic tool is a good one, and rather insightful, actually, when you think about who created it then and who is defending it now.

              So similarly, if we’re going create professional athletes under the age of 18, let’s just create professional leagues for them to play in. The alternative, that you’re discussing, just perpetuates the problem, because it continues our insane tradition of building for-profit entertainment entities inside of not-for-profit school athletic departments which (to look back at origin again) only exist because of a philosophical belief that education should have both a mind and body component in order to churn out well-rounded students.

          • Darrron Rovelll

            Given this case plus some of the other issues threatening the player talent pool for football, the NFL would be wise to take hard look at creating viable minor leagues for the development of talent.

            While this NCAA case should concern the NFL, because it could reduce the player pool, the lawsuits by former players regarding head injuries has way more potential to hurt the NFL and their player development system.

            • Now that is an interesting effin’ point.

              Although the NFL is probably even less concerned about it than DeLoss Dodds claims to be.

              • Darrron Rovelll

                Of all of the major sports, football is most dependent on the amateur school system for player development. While the O’Bannon can hurt the talent pool if it drives some schools out of the football business, the head injury lawsuits that may evolve at the collegiate and high school level could send liability coverage skyrocketing. Cash strapped schools systems will either eliminate football all together or pass on the costs to the participants. Either way it has the potential to significantly reduce the numbers of future football players.

                Baseball, basketball, etc have large amateur youth organizations outside the school system which are the primary systems for talent development.

                If high school baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, etc went away, I am confident that the collegiate and professional leagues would not have an issue finding the talent.

                If high school football went away, where are you going to find football players for college? If college football goes away, where does the NFL turn?

      • If they’re worth it, that happens (see tennis, gymnastics, among other sports).

    • Darrron Rovelll

      +10000 – I am been beating this drum for a long time in this argument. Every other major sporting organization that was founded on the principles of amateurism has abandoned the practice.

      • United States Golf Association (USGA)

        What????

        • Darrron Rovelll

          I understand – it is a large organization of amateurs. But do they ban professionals from competing in their largest championships?
          The USGA sponsors the amateur events but US Open has a $8 million purse.
          Even the USGA museum site acknowledges that professional golf supplanted amateur golf in popularity by the 1920’s.

    • 79Dawg

      The traditional of amateurism is only offensive and elitist in light of the massive amounts of money flowing into athletics. 100 years ago, only gentlemen of leisure could play sports because they were the only ones who could afford to – everyone else was busy trying to make a living slaving away in the factory or in the fields.
      As people gained more leisure time, were able to invest more time and money into sports, they demanded more and more and better and better. Thus, we have ended up with the situation we now find ourselves in, where big time college athletics is, in reality (and at best) “semi-pro”. Sure, you’ll find some guys like the Stinchcombs majoring in biochemistry (and all of Tech’s athletes majoring in nuclear engineering), but by and large, most of the athletes at big time schools spend way more time on sports than on school.
      The problem is people like Delany, everyone at the NCAA, and many fans who value “winning”, money and prestige more than educating students, but hypocritically hide behind the notion of student-athletes.
      As the haves and have nots cotinue to separate and sort themselves out, I believe we are going to end up with a two-tiered system: an upper echelon, which essentially acknowledges what has been occurring for the past 30 years, and becomes basically a semi-pro AAA for the NFL and NBA, and a lower echelon that truly is committed to amateurism and student-athletes.
      The NCAA, Dulaney and others are trying to hold off as hard as they can from accepting this reality, because doing so would decrease their power, money, influence and prestige. Hoping they win the lawsuit and ignoring this reality for a few more years is not a winning plan…

      • Darrron Rovelll

        No it was offensive and elitist back in the day when it was instituted by European royalty and upper class individuals so they could compete in athletics like track & field, rowing, golf, tennis, etc.

  2. Dog in Fla

    Today’s a good day to “Burn down the plantation.”

    http://blutarsky.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/burn-down-the-plantation/

  3. paul

    I think it is the NCAA itself that has demonstrated that collegiate athletics is all about one thing and one thing only: money. And we’ve found out through this suit that they have gone to great lengths to make as much money as possible off the likeness, images, stats and recognition of individual players while at the same time acknowledging that without the concept of “amateurism” they’ve dug themselves a deep legal hole. The number one rule when you find yourself in that proverbial hole? Stop digging! What has the NCAA done instead? Dig faster! Any harm that results from the loss of this suit is strictly self inflicted. As usual, it is the athletes in smaller programs that will suffer. And as usual, the NCAA will do everything except what it should.

    • Now I’d agree here. If they weren’t focused on the money from video games, TV rights, shoe/clothing sponsorships, etc, etc, etc, this case doesn’t have the supposedly detrimental impact to their precious profit margins and bottom lines. They wanted to start whoring themselves out, and they’re getting what they asked for with their money hungry ways.

  4. Mayor of Dawgtown

    The fundamental problems with the NCAA cannot be cured. Better to have the universities of this country abandon that sinking NCAA ship and start something else that doesn’t have all the baggage.

  5. Cojones

    Sorry. I don’t get the semi-pro league sponsored by the NFL. Wouldn’t that take all the CFB players and destroy CFB when there is nothing to recruit?

    • No. Some kids might want an education in more than just football.

    • Monday Night Frotteur

      Wouldn’t that take all the CFB players and destroy CFB when there is nothing to recruit?

      I predict the following; if the NFL expanded roster size and allowed teams to draft kids 18 years of age and develop them*, major college football would look like the Ivy League currently looks. Remember, 60-110 years ago Ivy League football was big time; massive crowds (Princeton used to draw in one game more than it draws for a season now), expensive tickets, national media attention, etc. The Ivies de-emphasized and they still play football; football didn’t die. But a lot of the passion died. People don’t watch it on TV, boosters don’t go nuts about results, the players are kind of anonymous.

      If that’s what you want, asking the NFL to solve the NCAA member schools’ problem is a good approach.

      *The NFL wouldn’t have to create a developmental league, it would be much cheaper to just expand rosters and teach them on the job, a la Andrew Bynum et al.

  6. Always Someone Else's Fault

    Which would you spend 2 hours watching on TV on a fall Saturday:

    A) Augusta Duffers versus Huntsville Rockets, featuring 4 players each likely to play in the NFL next season?
    or
    B) Georgia versus Alabama, featuring a bunch of guys who will never play in the NFL?

    You can fuss about it being a false choice. You can argue about that enough Other Fans would choose A to destroy the current earnings potential. But, everyone on this board would choose B, and no one on this board knows anyone personally who wouldn’t also choose B.

    If colleges all went DIII-model tomorrow, the NFL still would not spend a dime to create a developmental minor league because there is no money in it. Neither would anyone else. There’s just no getting around that one.

    • 1996 Dog

      A, not even close. I wouldn’t watch B and neither would you. How many people watch Ivy League football today vs. 1930?

      • Always Someone Else's Fault

        Just the people who care about the teams. If you’re saying that you would prefer athletic potential over loyalty to your school, then that’s fine. I watch Georgia softball over MLB. Why?

        • 1996 Dog

          There’s probably 5 people who watch college softball instead of MLB, and 50 million who watch MLB but don’t watch college softball. Hell, Minor League baseball blows college baseball out of the water in attendance and revenue.

          People still watch Ivy League football today, just not very many and they don’t pay much to do so.

          • Always Someone Else's Fault

            Well, more than 5, since ESPN televises the games, as well as college baseball. And they don’t televise minor league baseball. Interesting. I guess fan behaviors vary according to context rather than defaulting to the most talented pool of athletes.

            If you would rather watch the Augusta Duffers on TV with a few potential pros rather than a much less talented Georgia team, then that is your entertainment choice. It’s not one I would make.

    • If colleges all went DIII-model tomorrow, the NFL still would not spend a dime to create a developmental minor league because there is no money in it. Neither would anyone else. There’s just no getting around that one.

      Then how would the NFL obtain developed players?

      They’d operate a minor league if they had no other option. It wouldn’t be about making money – although I’m sure they’d try to come up with some sort of model to help with that – it would be about creating a necessary talent pipeline.

      You also make a false assumption that no top-rated talent would elect to play college ball. While I think it’s logical that most kids coming out of high school would take a contract if offered, there will still be plenty who won’t.

      • Always Someone Else's Fault

        I am not making that false assumption. I was just proposing opposites as a theoretical premise. I do think plenty of talented players would continue to go through college programs, which means the NFL would not have to figure out a D-league. But if they did, it would be a money loser as a stand-alone operation.