The class-action lawsuit against the NCAA over licensing rights is ongoing. Athletes suing scored a substantial triumph on Monday. A judged has ordered the NCAA to reveal all its members income from outside sources, including but not limited to television, radio, Internet, ad sales, sponsorship and licensing agreements. This will let the plaintiffs calculate how much profit NCAA member institutions are making from the clause that forces student-athletes to sign over likeness rights in perpetuity.
The plaintiffs in the case have been pushing for details about the NCAA’s income from media sources for quite some time. They say they need it because it “may form the basis of a calculation of damages” and “demonstrate the magnitude of the benefit that the NCAA and its members receive as a result of exploiting the name, likeness and/or image rights of college athletes.”
Setting up a “pay the players” straw man and defeating it is easy, but in reality it is a multi-faceted issue. Outright payment, however justified in theory, won’t work in practice. Even if NCAA members were willing to fly commercial occasionally to accommodate the expenditure, it would create too many problems with Title IX, college athletics’ tax exempt status and potential workers’ compensation claims.
Two reforms will work. One is already in the process of getting approved, covering the full cost of attendance for student-athletes. They should be able to eat, buy gas and function like people. Major athletic departments can more than afford to cover this cost. They are cash-strapped by choice. Where does the expanded television revenue go? Thus far, increased salaries for coaches, assistants and administrators and new, in many cases, unneeded facilities. Assuming every scholarship-athlete is on a full scholarship, covering COA (under the $2,000 plan) would cost Michigan about $940,000 per year. That’s less than one percent of Michigan’s yearly athletic revenue. Michigan could fund that for the next 35 years out of its present operating reserves.
The other is reforming the definition of amateur, which is at stake in this lawsuit. When Michigan put its Alabama game jerseys on display, Denard Robinson walked up to the mannequin wearing No. 16 and untied its shoe. To any reasonable person, that No. 16 represents Denard Robinson. To the NCAA there is no connection whatsoever. Michigan happened to choose No. 16 to produce (and sell out of). Schools, conferences and TV networks manufacture and sell stars. They use them to make millions off the field and, unlike any other walk of life, they are not compensated for it.
A switch to the Olympic model, where student-athletes can’t get paid directly but can accept outside endorsements would be fair, and come at no direct cost to the schools. Matt Barkley can sell Subway sandwiches and capitalize on his stardom. Average player for Alabama can have his picture put in a display window in exchange for a free suit. The NFL-bound player from a poor background who wants to stay for his senior season can do so. The NCAA can also offload much of its enforcement burden on the IRS.
This would also help out the NCAA’s Olympic sports. We’re not sure what the marketplace is for NCAA track and field or college swimming rights. We are sure it is probably far greater if Grenadian gold medalist Kirani James does not need to stop competing for Alabama in NCAA competitions to get sponsorship and Missy Franklin does not need to forego competing in college because the endorsement money was too much to turn down.
[Photo via Getty]