The NCAA cracks.

Down the road, I firmly believe we’ll look back on this week as crucial to how the O’Bannon case played out.  First, the NCAA bailed out of its licensing arrangement with EA Sports, a move clearly designed to cap liability exposure.  Then comes this extraordinary comment from the organization’s chief counsel:

“College sports today are valued by the student-athletes who compete and all of us who support them,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s vice president for legal affairs, said in a statement. “However, the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the likeness case now want to make this about professionalizing a few current student-athletes to the detriment of all others. Their scheme to pay a small number of student-athletes threatens college sports as we know it.

“In particular, we would lose the very real opportunity for at least 96% of NCAA male and female student-athletes who do not compete in Division I men’s basketball or FBS football to play a sport and get an education, as they do today.”

“(T)hreatens college sports as we know it.”  The organization has embraced its inner Delany with that.  (Of course, the amusing thing is that Delany was forced to backtrack from that sentiment in a deposition for the case.  The NCAA can’t even keep up with what’s apocalyptic these days.)  Anyway, it’s the first time it’s publicly admitted the possibility that something other than complete and total vindication is at hand.  Combine that with the decision to sever ties with EA Sports, and I bet you’ve got more than a few of Emmert’s constituents wondering what the hell he’s been selling them about the lawsuit all this time.

But the truly remarkable part of Remy’s comments is the acknowledgement that amateurism itself isn’t the lofty in and all goal that justifies the NCAA’s existence.  Instead, it’s revealed as little more than a tawdry means to an end, the lever that lets college athletics prop itself up with an increasingly corrupt business model.  And, of course, this being the NCAA, Remy can’t even admit to that without BSing.  Those scholarship costs of the 96% are largely a mirage.  Schools don’t pay anything for those; at worst they could argue that they’re forgoing receiving tuition moneys from the kids whose slots are taken by these student-athletes.  Granted, there are some associated costs, like room and board, that are real expenses, but that’s not where the money the 4% help generate is going for the most part.  That would be your coaching salaries, your capital improvements, your reserve funds, your bloated recruiting budgets, your bowl expenses… and Mark Emmert’s salary.

Somehow, I don’t think the 4% signed up for that.

If the judge grants the class action certification to the O’Bannon plaintiffs, it’ll be a complete nightmare for the NCAA.  And it’s one that could have been avoided cheaply at the beginning (and probably made the organization look good, too.)  Instead, I have a funny feeling that John Infante’s intellectual exercise may soon be morphing into a road map.


Filed under The NCAA

22 responses to “The NCAA cracks.

  1. David

    I understand the arguement coming from football players and men’s basketball players given the revenue they produce via television, jerseys, video games, etc. However, Title IX creates a big problem here. If schools begin compensating the players from these 2 sports then they have to compensate every athlete. Am I wrong about this? And what about scholarship athletes at schools like Elon, West Georgia, Mars Hill, etc.?

    • David, this has been my point all along. If not managed appropriately, this case has the potential to collapse the college sports model because of Title IX. I agree with the athletes’ perspective on the generation of money except for the jersey, which I believe is part of the university’s intellectual property and the student-athlete is granted a temporary “license” to use it. The only way the NCAA can continue to exist is to create a super-D1 of the power conferences (or for those conferences to break away from the NCAA). That division goes to full cost scholarships for all student-athletes, enables the student-athlete to trade on their own likeness, and simplifies the enforcement rule book. Everyone else stays the same with a simplified rule book.

      I’m afraid of what the bozos in Washington will do if the NCAA asks them to throw them a lifeline.

      • Junkyardawg41

        @eethomaswfnc While creating a super D-I conference with more money to scholarship athletes, IX would force you to “compensate” all student-athletes the same. Therefore your profitable sports have to pay for the other not so profitable sports at the same level. Schools within our own conference would struggle with that.(Tennessee football has been in the red for several years now) The trade on their own likeness only works if used in association with games and no more and would have to be administered by the NCAA. Otherwise, agents get involved and the next thing that happens is endorsement deals to attend college and things could get very much out of control.

        • You guys aren’t getting this.

          The NCAA is admitting that amateurism is little more than a wishful delusion.

          The only way this business model survives is with government protection.

          • Ok – let’s remove all pretense about academic integrity and amateurism and make college sports a feeder for the NFL and NBA.

            Either way, the college model changes forever. Thanks, NCAA.

            • Junkyardawg41


            • James

              Seriously, thanks NCAA. There’s not really a single good thing about the current model that isn’t simply an externality of the current system that’s ultimately prioritizing compensation for those running it (e.g. the walk on who works hard and earns a free education — because there was one lying around).

              People need to stop being so afraid of change. Players who were very quietly courting agents will do so without having to run around like sinners, and people like Delany and the administrative staff of the NCAA will stop taking 15% raises on their six to seven figure salaries every year.

          • TomReagan

            I don’t know the case as well as you, Senator, but I wonder if government protection can even protect the current model. If the players deserve compensation, then they deserve compensation, don’t they? It’s not like there’s an anti-trust exemption that could save the NCAA from that.

            Also, how do they plan to apportion the money? Again, if the basis of the claim is that money’s being made off of player likenesses, then isn’t it just as obviously unfair to make Johnny Manziel share his cut equally with Rice’s punter as it is to give it to the NCAA? And if they do decide to split it evenly, how long is it before the coaches and ADs at places like Alabama and Ohio State realize that if they or their conferences can not only negotiate their own contracts that would probably net them just as much money as now, but will also be able to give their players more cash to sign with them?

            The difficulty of resolving who gets how much of this money is proof in itself of how crazy the current arrangement is.

    • 1996Dog

      Don’t think you have to pay the same. Coaches aren’t paid the same (football and men’s basketball coaches make more than women’s softball coaches) and some sports only have partial schollies.

      What I think would happen is all men’s non-revenue sports would go, and the schools would probably have to run women’s sports much more cheaply and pay administrative people way less. But it could happen. Might have to.

      • The value of the scholarship has to be the same under Title IX rules. If the full-cost scholarship for a football player is $45,000 (out of state), then the women’s volleyball player’s scholarship has to be the same. You can’t pay $4,000 stipend to a men’s basketball player and $2,000 to a women’s player. It has to be equivalent in value.

  2. I agree, but that’s the model we have now. The profitable sports subsidize the sports that don’t or can’t pay for themselves. I think some schools (like UT) borrowed and spent their way into oblivion and now have to figure out how to instill fiscal discipline (one thing we have done).

    Trade on likeness requires full disclosure of payments overseen by a governing body. Those payments are also taxable income, so the IRS is going to be very interested in these as well.

  3. 69Dawg

    Why can’t the NCAA get out of it’s own way and adopt the Olympic model. If Todd Gurley is a great college football player and Nike wants him to do a commercial let it be. It is not just about pay for play it’s about absolute control in the name of amateurism.

    Let 3rd year players talk to agents and declare for the draft and if they do not get drafted or sign a free agent agreement and want to return to college to finish out their eligibility LET THEM. Who’s harmed????? If all of these measures were put in place the really good kids could make money. The marginal kids could try to make money and the colleges would not appear to be as big of a Plantation.

    It’s not the fact that they are not paid, they are getting an education, it’s the fact that the NCAA want to totally control their lives off of the field and on it. AJ Green should have had every right in the world to sell something that is his to the highest bidder without the NCAA having any say whatsoever. This is where the greed of the NCAA and the presidents is exposed.

  4. The other Doug

    I think schools could meet the Title IX rules by having Football, Men’s and Women’s BB, and Baseball and Softball on a different level than other sports. Maybe they are the only Varsity sports and the remainder are Club sports.

    • I don’t think so. The scholarship component of Title IX is driven by representation of gender. If football has 85 scholarships then you have to have enough women’s sports to offset it. Club sports aren’t recognized by the NCAA for championships either. There isn’t any way out.

      • The other Doug

        I assume that the NCAA would change championship designation and things like that to stay within federal laws. The schools could still offer scholarships and other benefits for the new club sports as long as they kept the benefits at that level equal between the genders. I wonder how many BCS conference ADs would fight to keep the none revenue sports anyway.

      • Darrron Rovelll

        + Title IX compliance also is based on the gender statistics for the overall student population of the institution.

  5. Will Trane

    I’m the premier running back in D1. I have the numbers to prove it. I lead my team to a perfect or near perfect record. I plan to go to this school. How much are you guys going to pay me to go. Well, premier running back we have a productive back and we don’t pay him that or any other players on the current rost. What will be the value of the player in college sports re compensation?. There is no market.

    • You really don’t get this, do you…

      How much money could Johnny Manziel earn if he could endorse products? Or charge for signing autographs?

      • James

        And: How much money would Georgia be able to make if they never got any good talent to play for them? What does Georgia offer, on it’s own, that hasn’t been built off of the backs of really talented, free labor? Go ask Eastern Michigan how much their pulling from TV contracts and jersey sales.

        But what’s actually hilarious about this kind of comment — and we see it a lot — is that it’s built on the premise that it’s moral for a bunch of employers to collude in a way that they can force people to work for free. I’d love to hear Will Trane’s response if we suggested everyone that hired is his professional field should be able to do the same.

  6. TomReagan

    I don’t see what Title IX has to with any of this. Title IX is about access to basic services–which college sports scholarships are considered to be.

    As I understand it, this suit is about the NCAA and schools profiting off of players without compensating them for it. Women and men may well be entitled to equal scholarship opportunities–but, for the most part, it’s the football and boys basketball players who are being exploited. A scholarship to be on the equestrian team really is a good deal for every woman on one. Punishing AJ Green for selling a jersey while the school sells thousands is not a good deal.

    • Agree with your comments but you can’t deal with these separately as a university subject to Title IX.

      Full-cost scholarships plus the ability to earn outside income (endorsements, etc.) is the only way to resolve this. My question is what happens if Todd Gurley agrees to a deal with Adidas when Georgia’s shoe contract is with Nike?