If you’ve got questions about the potential ramifications of Judge Wilken’s ruling against the NCAA in the Alston antitrust suit, SI.com’s Michael McCann, has some possible answers that might be of interest.
First, from his overall analysis, if you’re looking for a potential real world example of how competition might impact even the limited form of compensation Wilken allows for, here’s something that might be of particular interest to us:
The antitrust dynamic described above can be illustrated using one of this year’s best incoming players: Nolan Smith, a defensive end at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Over the last year, Smith was ranked as one of the top three recruits in the class of 2019 by every major outlet. Five elite college football programs—Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Clemson and Tennessee—all aggressively recruited him. During the early signing period in December, Smith officially signed with Georgia, and he will play for the Bulldogs on a full scholarship this fall.
This description of Smith might not seem problematic. In fact, it seems ordinary for a recruit of Smith’s caliber. Yet it nonetheless contains an antitrust problem. Smith was denied the full benefits of the competition for his services. If Smith were a coach or a professor, the multiple schools competing for him could have offered him more money as an inducement to select their school. That doesn’t mean the school would pay Smith a salary. NCAA rules forbid “paying” college athletes as employees, but a similar “compensatory” outcome could be achieved through a scholarship offer that reflects the market competition for Smith. If Alabama offered $100,000 per year in a scholarship, Clemson could offer $150,000 and then Tennessee could top them both at $200,000 per year—and so on.
… While universities regard elite recruits as potential students, these students are assets to a university in ways that other students are not.
Second, here’s a description of how the ruling, should it remain in place, might impact schools.
Judge Wilken nonetheless agreed with the plaintiffs’ proposed remedy that individual conferences ought to be able to develop their own rules for capping scholarship values and accompanying benefits (so long as those rules comply with the limitations that benefits be “related to education”). The plaintiffs argued that individual conferences deciding the maximum value of an athletic scholarship would act more competitively than the NCAA deciding that question.
The related logic is that a conference that sees substantial economic value in sports, such as the Southeastern Conference, might reason that its top student-athletes should be eligible for scholarship values that far exceed the current NCAA cap. Those players play in stadiums that in some cases seat over 100,000 fans and appear on national television as part of lucrative broadcast contracts.
Smaller conferences might view the calculus in a different light and continue to employ the grant-in-aid cap. These leagues might reason that their members feature players whose college experience is not entirely dissimilar from that of their classmates, playing in smaller stadiums out of the national spotlight.
The potential ramifications there, at least to my mind, are pretty simple. What if the P5, after a few years of this round of competition shaking out, finds it can live with the results, financially speaking?
For the NCAA, the empowerment of conferences will mean less control over amateurism from on high. Conferences will become more autonomous and more adaptive to their individual circumstances. Whether individual members of conferences agree with proposed grant-in-aid changes remains to be seen. It’s conceivable that Judge Wilken’s ruling could lead to conference realignment, particularly if a conference adopts scholarship rules that are opposed by some of its members. Conferences could also evolve or transform into different creatures when it comes to methods of investigations and enforcement of rules. College sports could take on unique forms depending on the conference in question.
I’ll say it again: if you don’t think Nick Saban is already gaming this shit out, you don’t know Nick Saban.
Finally, in his third piece, McCann explores the impact of the ruling in related areas, about several of which some of you have asked questions. Take, for example, what he says about Title IX.
Title IX is probably best known for requiring that college athletic programs provide roughly equal opportunities to male and female student-athletes. Here is where Judge Wilken’s ruling might invite Title IX challenges. If a school pays football or men’s basketball players scholarship amounts that exceed what is paid to scholarship athletes on women’s teams, players on those women’s teams could argue that the school has failed to comply with Title IX.
However, a school would not automatically violate Title IX by paying higher value scholarships to male athletes. The relevant analysis would be more nuanced and would focus on the extent of disparity between scholarship values at a particular institution. Along those lines, Title IX does not require identical treatment of male and female athletes, nor does it compel that an equal amount of dollars be spent on both. The key, instead, would be whether the school provides the female athletes substantially proportionate opportunities for scholarships. It is possible the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, which enforces Title IX, will offer advisory opinions that might help schools interpret Judge Wilken’s ruling in a way that signals an acceptable disparity range for scholarships.
If you’re trying to understand what’s going on with these antitrust challenges to amateurism, these three articles are pretty good starting points. Take a little time to wade through them and see if they help.