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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

NCAA laid bare by court’s ruling

Telegraph Editorial

The events of the past week will forever alter the future of college athletics in America. The doors have been blown off the notion that college athletes are chattel to be subjugated for the financial advantage of some of the nation’s prominent institutions of higher learning. No longer can schools hide behind the phony rationale that a scholarship is adequate compensation.

The first shoe dropped when the NCAA announced that the five power conferences – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC – would be given greater freedom to establish their own rules with regard to athlete compensation. Currently, scholarships are allowed to cover only tuition, room and board, books and fees. Now, the schools will be able to factor in additional student costs as part of their compensation packages, including such things as laundry, clothing and travel expenses. Some schools have pushed to allow athletes to receive a flat stipend. ...

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The events of the past week will forever alter the future of college athletics in America. The doors have been blown off the notion that college athletes are chattel to be subjugated for the financial advantage of some of the nation’s prominent institutions of higher learning. No longer can schools hide behind the phony rationale that a scholarship is adequate compensation.

The first shoe dropped when the NCAA announced that the five power conferences – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC – would be given greater freedom to establish their own rules with regard to athlete compensation. Currently, scholarships are allowed to cover only tuition, room and board, books and fees. Now, the schools will be able to factor in additional student costs as part of their compensation packages, including such things as laundry, clothing and travel expenses. Some schools have pushed to allow athletes to receive a flat stipend.

The conferences affected by the change were encouraged by the announcement because it gives them greater flexibility, but not all the reaction was positive.

“For those who already think that Division I athletics has devolved into a business that too often dictates university priorities rather than the other way around, it’s about to get worse,” Boise State President Bob Kustra said. “These elite programs will bear less and less resemblance to amateur athletics and the mission and role of a university. No one should think it will stop here.”

His words proved prophetic when, the next day, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled the NCAA can’t prevent college football and basketball players from profiting from the rights to their names and likenesses. Though historic because it found the NCAA in violation of antitrust law, the ruling was also limited in scope.

The ruling, which the NCAA has appealed, applies only to football and basketball players – swimmers, hockey players and gymnasts are not covered. And all athletes are still prohibited from signing their own endorsement deals. Also, the schools can cap the athlete compensation so long as it’s no less than $5,000, and athletes would receive the money at the end of their playing careers.

It will take years to resolve all the potential permutations unleashed by Wilken’s decision. There no doubt be other legal challenges to come. There is a sense that we are at a point similar to Curt Flood’s objection to Major League Baseball’s reserve clause. Although he lost his case, Flood set the stage for free agency, which fundamentally altered the game.

The suit was brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, who said the ruling will help reshape college athletics for years to come.

“What we did is just a small amount of change,” O’Bannon said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. I think that a lot of change is going to happen. This is just the beginning.”

One thing not addressed by the suit or the new NCAA rules is educational quality. Another of O’Bannon’s criticisms is that he was a student in name only. UCLA cared about his education only to the point where he remained eligible to play basketball. He sensed no obligation on the part of the university to train him to be a productive member of society anywhere else but on a basketball court.

Where is all the concern for addressing this injustice?

Yes, it’s about time college athletes are fairly compensated for the revenues and prestige they bring to bigtime schools. But unless we address the more important issue of providing athletes with honest educations that serve them after they’ve left school, then all we are talking about is money for nothing.