So yesterday, it was big Jim Delany’s turn to take the stand in O’Bannon. The media reports seem to make it sound as if the plaintiffs unearthed a smoking gun from his testimony: “O’Bannon trial: In defending NCAA, Jim Delany also helps plaintiffs” (USA Today); “Jim Delany reinforced plaintiffs’ key points in O’Bannon v. NCAA” (SI.com); “Big Ten’s Jim Delany ends up hurting NCAA in O’Bannon trial” (SBNation). The reality is a little less dramatic than that.
Simply speaking, Delany was honest. And as we’ve already seen throughout the trial, honesty doesn’t help the NCAA’s case, because that case doesn’t hold together logically. Andy Staples describes:
Delany is tired of athletes being asked to spend all year on voluntary — read: mandatory — workouts. He’d like to see athletes get a chance to spend a semester abroad if they chose. He believes they are supposed to be students first. As he said all this, he admitted he remains very much in the minority among the policymakers in college sports on those issues. (Case in point: The schools have recently passed rules allowing football and basketball coaches to spend more time with their players in the offseason.)
That admission from Delany hacked several questions off his cross examination.
The plaintiffs have spent the entire trial trying to prove that in today’s NCAA, players are athletes first and students second. The NCAA’s attorneys and most of its witnesses have insisted that isn’t the case. They say the athletes are students who just happen to play sports. They say allowing football and men’s basketball players to sell their name, image and likeness rights would drive a wedge between the athletes and the student body. The plaintiffs contend the wedge was driven long ago and extra money in the pockets of the athletes won’t change that. Delany helped them make that case Friday by explaining the reforms he’d like to see that actually would make the players feel more like regular students and then by explaining that they’d get steamrolled if they came up for a vote.
Talk to a coach or an athletic director, and it becomes obvious such reforms are pipe dreams. The schools have moved too far the other way, and why should they go back? Football and men’s basketball are a multi-billion dollar business. Why shouldn’t the players hone their craft year-round? But if they do, plaintiffs’ attorneys say, they should get a cut of the action from schools that rake in cash on television deals such as the one Delany struck when he created the Big Ten Network.
Delany’s baby, a partnership with Fox that he said brings in about $110 million a year for the league’s schools, also got some unflattering time in court Friday. During Delany’s cross examination, Hausfeld showed a release form that Big Ten athletes were required to sign in 2007. Here’s what it said:
“I hereby grant to the [school] and The Big Ten Conference and their assigns the right to publish, duplicate, print, broadcast or otherwise use in any manner or media, my name, photograph, likeness or other image of myself for any purpose the [school] or The Big Ten Conference determines, in its sole discretion, is in the interest of the University of Illinois or The Big Ten Conference, including without limitation uses in promotional and marketing materials and uses by the Big Ten Network, CBS, ABC and ESPN. All such uses shall be consistent with all applicable NCAA and Big Ten Conference rules and regulations. I agree that neither I nor my heirs shall be entitled to any compensation for the use of my name, photograph, likeness or other image of myself.”
That’s an awfully broad release. After all, it spans generations. Delany called it “boilerplate.”
And while it might be standard legal language, it’s damaging to a case built on the idea that a market for the names, images and likenesses of college athletes doesn’t exist. “The NCAA and the schools have spent a lot of time studying — work groups, task forces, releases, contracts — and talking about name, image and likeness rights,” Isaacson said. “And they come into court and say ‘We’ve never really heard of this before.’ It hasn’t made any sense to us.” It probably hasn’t made much sense to Judge Claudia Wilken, either.
The stunning part of O’Bannon isn’t what’s coming out in court under oath. It’s that the presidents thought it was in their best interests to go to court in the first place.