Jon Solomon took in last week’s College Athletes’ Rights & Empowerment (CARE) conference. There’s a lot in his report, but the bit about where the NCAA is ready to go if the courts don’t go the way it wants in all the outstanding antitrust litigation is of most interest to me.
Within the movement, one of the most contentious debates is whether to negotiate a conditional antitrust exemption for the NCAA in exchange for other benefits. An exemption could remove the legal challenges the NCAA continues to face in court over its rules.
If Congress got involved, it’s possible a commission could be created to study players’ rights issues and require changes in exchange for a conditional exemption. But there’s deep skepticism within parts of the movement that Congress would do anything but help the NCAA, which appears to view Congress as a last-ditch effort if necessary.
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera said he has documents showing the NCAA’s general counsel saying that if amateurism rules are seriously in jeopardy under antitrust law, the NCAA’s athletic directors, coaches and universities would go to Congress to pass an exemption for the NCAA. A high-ranking administrator in major college sports echoed the same sentiment to CBS Sports, saying that the NCAA believes it can get an exemption immediately if the courts allow players to be paid.
The NCAA spent $1 million on lobbyists in 2014 and 2015, according to records listed on opensecrets.org. That’s far less than the NFL spent those two years ($2.4 million), but the NCAA’s two-year total exceeded its lobbying total from 2008-13 ($990,000). The NCPA, the most structured organization in the athletes’ rights movement, spent $26,582 on lobbying efforts in 2014, according to the NCPA’s 2014 tax form.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said there is not a plan “right now” to go before Congress. “But at some point it may well be we wind up with a case in front of the Supreme Court to ascertain what the ultimate state of the law is and what the Supreme Court thinks that collegiate sports should look like in America,” Emmert said from the Final Four this week. “Then we’ll see where that goes.”
Within some circles among administrators in college sports, there’s a belief the NCAA wants a seminal moment to wake up Congress and get a swift, definitive and favorable answer on antitrust law as legal fees from court cases continue to rise. In other words, such a moment could be a players’ strike or a Supreme Court decision against the NCAA.
I hear a lot of wishful thinking there. From all sides. As far as what the NCAA believes it can get, last time I checked, barring a veto override, Congress can’t turn a bill into a law without a President’s signature. And this is so much bullshit from Andrew Zimbalist:
“Congress will get involved if there’s a judicially-imposed solution,” said Zimbalist, a prominent economics professor at Smith College. “They’re not just going to let it stand. … A judge-imposed solution or a legal settlement is not a democratic resolution of the problem. It’s an arbitrary solution among the people in the room when the case is heard.”
So every time a lawsuit is settled, it’s an invitation for Congress to jump in with a democratic resolution? Stupid me. I thought antitrust law is a democratic resolution of the problem.
By the way, I wonder if coaches should be a little nervous if the NCAA marches to Washington for help. I mean, if you’re the schools asking for relief on the pay front, why stop with student-athletes while you’re there?