The times they are a changin’



Last week a US District Judge in California fired the first real shot at the NCAA. What it calls “amateur athletics”, siding with former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon in a lawsuit he brought against the NCAA five years ago after discovering they were still profiting off of his likeness in video game licenses, many years after he had stopped playing college basketball.


The judge ruled that from now on the NCAA must pay every football and basketball player in Division I and FBS schools at least $5,000 a year for the use of their likenesses and names in such things as video games and jersey sales.


The money is to be deposited in an account which will then be paid to the player when they leave school. While the amount of money may seem small, the ramifications of the decision are enormous.


The NCAA has maintained for as long as it existed that it is an amateur organization, more concerned with education and campus life than making money and for a while I suppose that was true. But those days are long gone, and as far as I’m concerned, this potential change to the way the NCAA operates should be just the first change forced on what has become a billion dollar industry.


I am not going to walk out on the thin branches and say all college athletes should be paid. There are too many college athletes and too many programs that don’t make any money. For every Alabama or Texas or Oklahoma there are two or three University of Reno’s or Louisiana Lafayette’s – schools that don’t have huge television contracts and who don’t play in major conferences that have their own channel on TV.


To say the players at the big schools should get a salary means the players at the small schools deserve one too and I just don’t see how this can work. However, that does not mean some of the billions of dollars the NCAA is making off the work of these athletes should not start ending up in their wallets.


I believe this ruling in a good start. Five thousand dollars a year per player is not life-changing money, either for the players or for the NCAA. However, it at least makes it look like the NCAA is no longer taking advantage of what has, to this point, been a license to print money off the fame of its athletes.


And I know, some people will now say that the athletes are being compensated by getting scholarships, but I would say that giving someone something they don’t really want is not really compensation. I mean, let’s be honest, most of the guys at major college football and basketball programs are simply there as a way to try and make it in the NFL or NBA – they are not concerned about getting an education and their graduation rates, and the numbers of players who leave school early are a perfect demonstration of this very fact.


So, now the players will get $5,000 a year and I say that’s good start. Of course, I won’t be happy until they also have the ability to do with their name and likeness as they please. I believe this will be a good second step on what is, hopefully, a changing path for college athletics.


Inevitably there will be appeals and, probably more appeals. Ed O’Bannon himself has said he is ready to go to the US Supreme Court and I’m sure the NCAA is as well – after all, they are trying to protect every last cent in a pie they have been eating from for decades. Ultimately, I believe O’Bannon and the athletes will prevail and they should. Because they are the ones the people are paying all that money to see – not the guys who run the NCAA.