NCAA split means inequality will run amok

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The power grab by the Power Five is part of a revolution — nothing less — in college sports.  We see a perfect storm of litigation, labor action, television and popular sentiment combining forces.

Sort of like King John giving away power by signing the Magna Carta, the NCAA agreed to let the Southeastern, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast conferences form their 65-school subdivision that will spend all the money it wants to compete in intercollegiate sports.

Some pundits are saying this is the end of the NCAA, but it could be its salvation.  Whatever happens, it will be considerably different from how it is now.

 Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), fears the changes could be abused for financial gain.  He sounds like a cynical politician:  “The NCAA will figure out how they’re going to make money out of it.  I think they’ve become almost a rogue out there.”

The National Labor Relations Board ruled Northwestern football players have the right to unionize after hearing testimony from student-athletes claiming they spend more than 40 hours a week on football in addition to their classes and homework.

At almost the same time, a California district judge, Claudia Wilkin, ruled in O’Bannon v. NCAA that colleges have the right to give some of their $6 billion annual revenues to the athletes.

She said popular demand for college sports would not decrease if the players are paid.  In classic legislating-from-the-bench manner, she recommended that each player in the Power Five receive a stipend of $5,000 a year.

The judge does allow colleges to prevent players from receiving endorsement money.  Thus we’re spared the absurdity of Jameis Winston endorsing Nike shoes and earning more than his position coach. 

O’Bannon, a former UCLA power forward, sued when the NCAA used his likeness in a 2008 college basketball video game without seeking his permission or paying him.

The judge did not award O’Bannon money but agreed with his position.  Thus she shut down a branch of NCAA marketing, and he said that’s all he wanted to do.

The NCAA has been losing power since 1984, when the Supreme Court ruled it was violating antitrust law by prohibiting individual schools from negotiating their own television deals.  Hence, Notre Dame Network, Longhorn Network, SEC Network, et al.

So now the big football factories can compete against each other in a brazen, open money war that in the past was mostly under the table.

And speaking of the table, the NCAA lifted food limitations, so look for Texas and Alabama to hire world-class chefs to feed their football players.  Oklahoma already has a “food truck” with refrigerator and stove, to circulate around campus to give athletes gourmet snacks wherever they may be. 

The power schools from the power conferences will try to outdo each other to win over recruits.  But the smaller schools in the big leagues – such as Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Baylor, Duke — will fall farther behind their wealthier brethren.  Some won’t have the revenues for payments to the players and all the bells and whistles to beckon them.

The enduring flaw of college football is its lack of parity: too many Alabama blowouts of Georgia State, too many Florida State romps over Nevada and Idaho.

In that respect, this sea change will be for the worse.  The haves now will have a lot more, the have-nots a lot less.

Click here for The Boston Globe article, “College sports should be taxed.”

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