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.