07 May 2013

The (Hopeful) Collapse of the NCAA Empire

by Brandon Uram, Op-Ed Participant

          It may all unravel soon for the NCAA, the billion-dollar collegiate sports enterprise, as a class-action lawsuit barrels down the road.  O’Bannon v. NCAA could finally force payments for the “student-athletes,” the ones that generate all derived revenues, which are solely enjoyed by the universities and administrators.
         Public support for the NCAA’s “student-athlete” model has been waning for years, but the camel’s back looks like it’s about to break.
         How is it justifiable that college kids, many of whom come from impoverished backgrounds, are prevented from making a single dime from their athletic endeavors? Worse yet, how are these colossal universities able to sell their players’ likeness and talents through jersey sales, memorabilia, and other licensed products?  
© NYTimes/Sara Cwynar
          All of this is cloaked under the oxymoronic, PR-department created phrase “student-athlete.”  This anachronistic model may have been feasible back when profits weren’t in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but now, everyone wants to wet their beak, and the only ones prevented from going to the well are the kids who are actually making all of this money. Take a look at what the average Division-1 athletic director makes.  After you pick your jaw from the floor, go ahead and glance at typical head coach salaries.  So while NCAA president Mark Emmert rakes in a cool $1.6 million this year, the athletes are given a $250 stipend.  Thanks so much, NCAA bureaucrats!
          Now, I’m not saying that coaches and ADs shouldn’t make six or seven figures.  After all, we’re not communists—I’m a believer in the free-market, and I think that they should rake in whatever the market will bear; but, the coaches and administrators, aren’t operating in a truly free market.  Hell, it isn’t even a competitive market—it’s an artificial monopoly.  These salaries are held up at the expense of the players.  If, after players are compensated for their talents, schools still want to pony up and pay Nick Saban $5 million-plus per year, be my guest.  If Alabama believes that that’s the fair market value and that they can still see a hefty return, then I’m all for it.  Just pay the players what they are entitled to.
      Then, there’s this ever-reliable straw man argument: “But the players are paid with their scholarships, and dammit, they should be grateful!”  Sure, the scholarship is definitely a benefit and obviously has some ascertainable value—not going to argue with that—but why are athletes the only ones on campus who are prevented from using their talents and making a buck? If, for example, School X gives a music scholarship to Y, Y can book performances if there’s a demand and make a profit. No need to stop this, says the NCAA; the concerns only arise when it’s trying to protect the games in the name of amateurism, administrator short-hand for “we’re not sharing.”
Back to the O’Bannon case.  A former UCLA star is suing to collect profits made by the NCAA and its licensed video game maker (EA Sports) for using his name and likeness, after he had graduated.  The NCAA argues that, when players sign the 20-plus pages of mandatory red-tape, releases, and waivers, it essentially owns an athlete-employee’s likeness for eternity.  If you refuse to sign all of the forms, you are barred from ever competing collegiately.  Not a whole lot of room for the players to negotiate.  I’m no Dr. John Murray, but that sounds like a contract of adhesion to me…unconscionable about sums up the NCAA’s stance on compensating its athlete-employees.
        If the players could somehow organize and boycott a major championship or tournament—perhaps this March—they could grind the NCAA to a halt.  They could force them to pony up something, anything.  But, this is extraordinarily unlikely, so, for those of us expecting justice, we’ll have to wait until it’s forced upon the NCAA. 
         Here’s to holding out hope that U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken finds in favor of the ever-uncompensated “student-athletes.”
If you don’t believe that the athletes—the ones who make the NCAA a billion-dollar conglomerate—are entitled to any revenues, you’re either (1) jealous, (2) ignorant, or (3) both. There’s no wiggle-room here. Wise up.  The kids have already earned it, now let them enjoy it.