O’Bannon Case Moves Forward; Pay for College Players and Trust Fund for Licensing Cash Is Coming

by Kent Sterling

Listening to NCAA president Mark Emmert talk about the NCAA paying players a stipend or owning their licensing, you get the feeling he knows the players deserve their piece of the pie.

Listening to NCAA president Mark Emmert talk about the NCAA paying players a stipend or owning their licensing, you get the feeling he knows the players deserve their piece of the pie.

In all things, what’s right gets done eventually.  It never happens as quickly as logic would dictate, but right always wins the debate in the end.

“They should be happy with their scholarship!” as a retort to those advocating for the payment of collegiate athletes is falling out of favor with every response of “Why should an adult allow others tell him what makes him happy?”

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Ed O’Bannon’s class action lawsuit will be heard in Oakland, California in June, and it will determine the legality of schools mandating control over the licensing of an athlete’s image while he plays for the school.  That is, unless the two sides negotiate a compromise in advance of the trial.

Rules prevent all college athletes from selling their autographs, receiving compensation for their image’s inclusion in video games, and denying the ability to monetize their image in any other way.

They exist for a single reason, and it’s the same reason so many other rules exist – money.  Schools have asserted leverage in the rule making process to open additional reservoirs of cash, and that they come at the expense of easily controlled students, well, what’s the problem with that?

When I spent a summer as a camp counselor in northern Wisconsin, I worked to make the experience positive for the campers.  Another counselor put his arm around me after the first week and said, “You don’t understand how this works.  We’re not here for the campers.  They’re here for us.”

Every time I think of John Calipari ‘earning’ more than $5 million per year, and Nick Saban making an obscene $7 million, I think about that brief conversation at camp.  The athletes, many of whom enter school without the proper preparation for the education they are offered in exchange for their skill and effort on the field or court and who will leave school long before getting a degree, get no money.

Some are eligible for a Pell Grant over and above their scholarship, but from the school for which they work, they get nothing beyond tuition, room and board, and books.  The coaches get rich.

If the coaches earned the average pay for a full professor ($128,000 at Indiana University) and all that media, ticket, and licensing cash wound up somewhere useful, I would not be nearly as adamant about the athletes getting their taste.

And for those who argue that the majority of the athletic departments run at break even or worse, don’t believe everything you read.  The transfer funds that bounce from the athletic department to cover expenses in other departments are determined entirely by the school itself.

If Sterling State University decides it should pay $250,000 to cover the cost for the marching band performing at halftime of football games, that’s what it pays.  If the same school decided the next year to pay $1.3 million for the same expense, that’s fine too.  The point is that the schools can control their expenses however they like to show the financial result of their choosing.

Opponents say that a trust fund established for players that collects and distributes fees for image dispersals are little more than a platform for bidding for recruits, and the rich will exploit the system to get richer.  If Alabama guarantees that a recruit will receive $500,000 when he graduates, how could Purdue compete?

That differs from the current system how?  For exactly which recruit can Purdue win a recruiting battle with ‘Bama today?

The reason this is such a contentious and unending debate is that for every reasonable point on either side, there is a counter.  So the outcome will go to the side which is right, and adults being paid to their value is right.

The reserve clause was correctly abolished over the reasonable protestation of baseball owners in the 1970s, and universities’ ownership of personal licensing will meet a similar doom.

If NCAA president Mark Emmert really believed kids had no right to sell their image via autographs, Johnny Manziel would have been suspended for far more than the single half of football he lost at Texas A&M.

Twenty years from now, college football fans will wonder what all the ruckus was about.

[Ed. note: this debate is complicated enough to fill many books, and boiling it down to 700 words is impossible without missing some substantial points.  The key is that the athletes and universities are playing a game wildly rigged in the advantage of the athletic departments, and that is patently unfair.  By the time even the smartest of the athletes figures out they have been hosed, their eligibility is exhausted and the potential gain for initiating a fight is not worth the effort.  That is why Ed O’Bannon deserves our respect.]

7 thoughts on “O’Bannon Case Moves Forward; Pay for College Players and Trust Fund for Licensing Cash Is Coming

  1. Kelly

    I’m sure some hard working kids that don’t happen to be 230lbs and run 4.4 forty would love to fill those measly $80K+ scholarships.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      That’s a great argument for underpaying people with a limited talent set in all businesses. Those with talent get paid. Those who are are indistinguishable from others do not. Why should that not be the case in collegiate athletics.

  2. Jeff Gregory

    I think that scholarship athletes should get the room and board plus a decent work study wage for playing a revenue sport (such as football and basketball) equivalent to 20 hours a week. I think they should get paid for their likeness and not get penalized (e.g. Steve Alford calendar).

    In addition, I think each player who graduates within five years, should get a hefty bonus. This would satisfy the universities education mission and discourage athletes from jumping ship before their education is complete – at least a little.

    This should be uniform amounts by all D1 schools in the NCAA.

    I don’t really mind coaches making what the coaches market allows them to make. Players, providing they can get their stipends, will have their turn to make the big bucks. For instance, Steve Alford helped generate a lot of money for IU during his playing days (like top notch players do now). He didn’t earn a dime from it, but he is doing okay now at UCLA. He waited his turn and now his players are helping earn his salary. I don’t have a problem with that. The players are paying their dues and they will get rewarded later with whatever their experience and education gets them.

    It is the same with other areas of life. I pay into Social Security and Medicare and don’t get a dime from it, while seniors use my money for income and medical care now. The Lord willing, I will get my turn. That is just the nature of the system.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      That is an evolved philosophy. We could all use a little more patience. I get a bang out of the 22-year-old journalism students who believe they will have no problem earning $60K straight out of school. Hilarious. No one at the school is paid to tell them the truth – that virtually no one wants to hire 95% of them at any price.

      The only amendment I would make to your schematic is that the uniform amounts for the stipend should be restricted to the 65 teams in the five major conferences. The NCAA can’t force a school like IPFW to fund athletes in the same measure as those in the Big Ten and SEC. The lack of football kills their revenue.

      1. Jeff Gregory

        That is a problem. Your amendment makes sense, but I don’t like the idea of the major conference schools having an ADDITIONAL advantage in recruiting over the smaller schools. No system is perfect, I guess. Perhaps the smaller schools can opt in that mix as much as they can afford to do so. Perhaps we can find a legitimate use for that dirty booster money after all.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          It would be great if the small schools could compete dollar for dollar with the large schools, but because of the various networks associated with the conferences, it’s impossible. The large schools have used your romantic version of what collegiate athletics should be as a rationale for hoarding more money.

          High school is the only level at which all is equal and the game is played because of love.


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