one by the Association and one by a Federal Judge should make it clear that the NCAA is big business, that it depends on profiting off of its athletes while denying them fair recompense, and that its business model is fraught with legal and ethical problems. It will take some time to see the effects of these decisions but some quick responses are offered below.
1) Yesterday Judge Claudia Wilken released a judgment in the legal case brought by Edward O'Bannon and others against the NCAA. O'Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs argued that the NCAA acted unfairly by profiting from the use of their images and names without allowing them to share in the profits. The NCAA argued in part that they prevented athletes from sharing in their profits because it was important for college athletics to remain "amateur" and that paying the athletes directly would undermine that image. The Judge rejected that position and ruled that, in fact, the whole notion of "amateur" had changed over time and that there was no legitimate legal reason to prevent the athletes from gaining compensation for the NCAA's licensing of the athletes images. You can read the entire decision here but the salient point is that the Judge insisted that athletes at Division 1 football and basketball programs should be allowed to share the profits, that their shares could be placed in trust during their time in school, and that the amount placed in the funds could be capped at no less that $5000 annually. One expert estimated that if NCAA Division 1 schools did cap at the minimum the amount would could be up to $300 Million dollars over a 4 year span.
2) The second important event was the decision by the NCAA to grant to the power sports conferences greater autonomy over their own actions and greater authority within the Association. The power sports conferences had threatened to break away from the NCAA and in response the Association apparently agreed to stop pretending that it was a single entity and to allow those campuses with oversized athletic programs with oversized power to separate themselves from the athletic hoi polloi. The decision opens the way for the richer conferences to offer more scholarships and larger scholarships. They will also, after Judge Wilken's decision be in a better position to create the trusts to allow athletes their small piece of the licensing pie. Although one can expect to see coaches salaries going up a lot more than the monies offered to athletes. Amateur athletics is big business after all.
Of course waiting in the wings of all of this ongoing question of whether student-athletes are employees and have the right to unionize. That issue--raised by Northwestern football players--is a long way from being settled. Perhaps, though, it might lead not only to fairer compensation for the athletes but also to coaches remember that student-athletes are supposed to be students and not setting up practice requirements in such a way that they have to regularly miss class. What can I say...hope springs eternal.
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