Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The NCAA thoroughly enjoys investigating these days. Whether it's USC, Florida, Alabama, UNC, Georgia, or any other member institution, it seems as though there is a new inquiry turning up every day. While this is pesky at best for those involved, the dollar figures associated with college athletics are creating some very interesting and somewhat murky situations. If you're unfamiliar with the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, I'll fill you in. It's extremely important to my point, which stems from a suit in 1984.

The NCAA was formed from the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States. The original purpose in forming the NCAA was to protect student athletes and also ensure the students eligibility when participating in a sanctioned sport. Initially, it was established as only a rule-making and governance authority, but in 1921 the NCAA held its first "sponsored" National Championship. In subsequent years more committees and national championships were created.

With increases in membership, new abuses in recruiting and financial aid, and the advent of television, the NCAA felt it necessary to hire full-time executive leadership. At the time, it was believed that this would give more structure to the system as well as help to curb abuses by the member institutions. This move actually expanded the roles of the NCAA to the governance of rules, championships, and finances.

In 1984, the association lost a landmark antitrust suit brought by the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia. Basically what the case boiled down to is that the NCAA had almost full control over TV rights. Teams were limited to 6 appearances on TV in a 2 year span, which the universities argued, stifled competition for viewership in the marketplace. The Supreme Court ruled that the control did, in fact, limit competition and thus gave the conferences the right to negotiate television deals.

Because of the power this case has given the conferences in terms of generating revenue by a variety of different ways, is the NCAA really still trying to look out for its student-athletes with all of these rules and regulations?

The answer is a resounding NO.

"What might be changing is that the NCAA for years have been given great deference by courts for rules to preserve amateur and educational goals. Some of that deference fades as it appears the inequity grows larger between what the athletes get and what the schools get." (USATODAY.com)

Television coverage and internet media plays a great part in this debate, which is why I included this case. As schools and conferences re-align and fight for media rights, the athletes that represent the universities are more closely followed and critiqued. Television networks make money from these players as they appear on various media which funnels back down to the conference and university. As coverage broadens, this will only mean more revenue that was created by the student-athlete, of which they see zero.

There have been at least three high-profile lawsuits that have involved these very discrepancies in "compensation". The O'Bannon and Keller suits were filed because of the impropriety of unfairly using athletes images for profit. I would like to see a university president or media outlet tell me that they gained absolutely no financial benefit from the athlete's likeness. The players see none of this money.

I know that some of you will say that the students receive a scholarship and also other fringe benefits associated with being a college athlete. Those benefits would probably amount to at least $100,000. While that is true, is it right for the college to profit from them for being there and receiving that perk? Do institutions have the right to essentially "pay" for an athlete's services by giving him or her and scholarship and then exploiting that relationship for financial gain?

As the spread widens between the university/athlete benefit, it will necessitate a deeper investigation. When a school can sell 150,000 #8 jerseys for an average of $58 and create about $4.2 million in revenue, it simply isn't justified to punish that player when he markets his own GIFTED jersey for $1000.

The NCAA has to make a more concerted effort to protect student-atheles as they were created to do. The hypocrisy demonstrated by these rules is blatantly obvious. If no changes are made, we're going to have another landmark case that will change the scope of college athletics forever. It will most likely be for the better.

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