The NCAA, the governing body for most of college athletics, has made a lot of money by referring to their money-makers as “Student-Athletes”. This reinforces the idea that all these people are amateurs. They’re at school to learn first, and compete second. But for some of the most elite athletes, they’re really just polishing their craft and gaining a following before the professional leagues will take them. For football, the wait is three years. For basketball, it’s just one.
Since March Madness is in full swing, it is prudent to remind everyone that the status of the student-athlete is being battled in court:The historic O’Bannon lawsuit took a significant turn on Thursday. A judge basically boiled this epic argument down — short of a settlement — to a jury trial starting June 9. Either way, it seems the NCAA is going to have to change. Arguing its amateurism ideals before a jury -– perhaps one day the Supreme Court — seems the riskier play. “The bottom line for the case is that the NCAA and collegiate sports will never be looked at the same today as it was before this case,” lead plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Hausfeld told reporters. “The NCAA has been arguing that limiting college athletes to receiving tuition, fees, room, board and books in exchange for playing is lawful, presumptively,” Hausfeld added. “We’re done with that. There’s no presumptions. This court is saying if you go to trial, you’re going to have to prove it.” I’m sure the NCAA hierarchy has considered it: A jury full of strangers in an Oakland, Calif. courtroom deciding on the future of the NCAA’s amateur model. It is a model that has been in place — at least philosophically –for more than a century. The O’Bannon plaintiffs are basically asking for a free market, that players could — in some fashion — be paid their market value. Short of that, Hausfeld said his side would be fine with an injunction that would set aside those benefits until perhaps after graduation.
The plaintiffs in this case are basically arguing that while these money-makers are in college, everyone makes money off them and they get nothing. This is true. Schools use the athlete’s likeness in promotions, the university gets TV revenue off the performances, and even coaches are enriched. Athletes get a scholarship, but that value doesn’t compare to what the school gets in return.
No matter your feelings about this situation (if you care), the “amateur” status of student-athletes will be changing.