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But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves.Here, a leading civil-rights historian makes the case for paying college athletes—and reveals how a spate of lawsuits working their way through the courts could destroy the NCAA.“Let’s start with the basic question,” he said, noting that the NCAA claims that student-athletes have no property rights in their own athletic accomplishments. So they had a right that they gave up in consideration to the principle of amateurism, if there be such.” (At an April hearing in a U. District Court in California, Gregory Curtner, a representative for the NCAA, stunned O’Bannon’s lawyers by saying: “There is no document, there is no substance, that the NCAA ever takes from the student-athletes their rights of publicity or their rights of likeness.
“And we want to know what they’re carrying on their books as the value of their archival footage,” he concluded. “And every player knows those millions are floating around only because of the 18-to-22-year-olds.” Yes, he told me, even the second-string punter believes a miracle might lift him into the NFL, and why not?
In all the many pages of the three voluminous Knight Commission reports, there is but one paragraph that addresses the real-life choices for college athletes.
The court soon would qualify his clients as a class. ”The work will be hard, but Hausfeld said he will win in the courts, unless the NCAA folds first. Under the law, it’s up to them [the defendants] to give a pro-competitive justification. End of story.”Ithird Knight Commission, complementing a previous commission’s recommendation for published reports on academic progress, called for the finances of college sports to be made transparent and public—television contracts, conference budgets, shoe deals, coaches’ salaries, stadium bonds, everything.
Then the Sherman Antitrust Act would provide for thorough discovery to break down exactly what the NCAA receives on everything from video clips to jerseys, contract by contract. The recommendation was based on the worthy truism that sunlight is a proven disinfectant. Conferences, coaches, and other stakeholders resisted disclosure; college players still have no way of determining their value to the university.“Money surrounds college sports,” says Domonique Foxworth, who is a cornerback for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and an executive-committee member for the NFL Players Association, and played for the University of Maryland.
“Boy, the silence that fell in that room,” he recalled recently.
“I never will forget it.” Friday, who founded and co-chaired two of the three Knight Foundation sports initiatives over the past 20 years, called Vaccaro “the worst of all” the witnesses ever to come before the panel.Stifling thought, the universities, in league with the NCAA, have failed their own primary mission by providing an empty, cynical education on college sports.The most basic reform would treat the students as what they are—adults, with rights and reason of their own—and grant them a meaningful voice in NCAA deliberations.Hausfeld read to me from page 390: The college player cannot sell his own feet (the coach does that) nor can he sell his own name (the college will do that). (He is now 89.) Was that part of the plaintiffs’ strategy for the O’Bannon trial? “I’d rather the NCAA lawyers not fully understand the strategy,” he said.This is the plantation mentality resurrected and blessed by today’s campus executives. He put the spiny book away and previewed what lies ahead. “We know our clients are foreclosed: neither the NCAA nor its members will permit them to participate in any of that licensing revenue.The debates and commissions about reforming college sports nibble around the edges—trying to reduce corruption, to prevent the “contamination” of athletes by lucre, and to maintain at least a pretense of concern for academic integrity.Everything stands on the implicit presumption that preserving amateurism is necessary for the well-being of college athletes.A litany of scandals in recent years have made the corruption of college sports constant front-page news.We profess outrage each time we learn that yet another student-athlete has been taking money under the table.“Approximately 1 percent of NCAA men’s basketball players and 2 percent of NCAA football players are drafted by NBA or NFL teams,” stated the 2001 report, basing its figures on a review of the previous 10 years, “and just being drafted is no assurance of a successful professional career.” Warning that the odds against professional athletic success are “astronomically high,” the Knight Commission counsels college athletes to avoid a “rude surprise” and to stick to regular studies.This is sound advice as far as it goes, but it’s a bromide that pinches off discussion.