Little by little, they keep chipping away at the omnipotence of the NCAA.
On Thursday, it was the 16-2 vote by the NCAA Division I board of directors that gave the power five conferences more ability to make their own rules. A day later, it was a federal judge’s ruling that college athletes have a right to profit from their names, images and likenesses, a stick in the eye to the NCAA.
Neither development surprising. Both overdue.
The gulf between the, at most, few dozen “haves” in college sports and the 300 or so others in Division I had made the top tier crave the chance to more or less govern themselves for years. Up to now, those gobs and gobs of small schools — think Division II, Division III — could outvote the universities you watch on TV every Saturday.
Now the power-five programs can more or less call their own shots — and effect change.
That’s a good thing, by the way. Let’s see what they do with the autonomy.
The power-five, if they choose, can close the gap between what an athletic scholarship provides and the real cost of attendance. At many universities, Texas Tech included, there’s a shortfall of a few thousand dollars annually.
The power five can also decide if they want to offer current and former athletes more extensive medical coverage, another step in the right direction. Who can argue that’s not a good thing as we learn more and more about the potential long-term health damages from football?
Ratcheting up scholarships to match cost of attendance and increasing medical care are planks of the College Athletes Players Association, the organization that gained attention in the past year at Northwestern.
CAPA also backs the right for players to be compensated for commercial sponsorships.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled the NCAA can’t stop players from selling their names, images and likenesses, while capping the amount by which they can profit. A compromise of sorts.
I’m surprised not so much by the ruling but by the fact no one thought — or at least took action — to mount a legal challenge sooner. It was only five years ago that former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller took offense to EA Sports’ using obvious player likenesses in its popular video games, with the players having no say — or stake, or royalties — in how their images were used.
The courts ruled against EA Sports.
Now here’s another big ruling in the players’ favor.
Thanks to former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon’s case, college athletes soon will be able to make as much as $5,000 a year by selling their names, images and likenesses. It’s capped at $5,000 a year with no player entitled to receive more than any other player. Such payouts wouldn’t be on the spot, but via a trust fund set up for tapping after a player’s eligibility expires.
These latest developments make it reasonable to wonder if the schools in the Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and ACC might someday break away and form their own organization entirely. And it won’t surprise me if that’s in my lifetime. Such is the snowball effect with these issues.
It didn’t have to come to this. The NCAA could have made small concessions along the way, small concessions that added up, and you know what? There’s a chance it might have forestalled power-conference unrest and legislation and legal challenges.
Legal challenges it’s now losing left and right.
Too late for the governing body to change course now.
The NCAA’s rigid inflexibility at trying to maintain its cherished amateur model has already cost it some influence, as we’ve seen just in the last few days. How long before it pays with its very life?
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