I fought the law, and the law won

I fought the law, and the law won
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This week the NCAA announced that it will commence a review of the rules that prohibits college athletes receiving payments for the use of the athletes name, image rights and likeness.

While the NCAA agreed in 2015 that College athletes could be paid a stipend payable towards college costs, this week’s announcement signals a turning point for the association which had until recently refused to recognise that Colleges were profiting handsomely (and have been for many years) through the sale of advertising and merchandise which exploits the players image rights.

And to hammer home the point, it seems timely that this week the Big Ten conference reported record high revenue earnings of $759m during the 2018 season. And while not every school details financial contributions from its athletics department separately, during the 2015/16 season there were 28 FBS schools which earned more than $100m during the year.

The NCAA, which has been roundly criticised for the best part of a decade, has admitted that it decided to finally open Pandora’s box as a result of recent state court rulings.  Since 2014 the Governing body has been found in violation of the Sherman Anti Trust act on two occasions (once in California and once in North Carolina). Which to the layperson like you and I means that the courts decreed the NCAA was exhibiting monopolistic tendencies.

In a recent case, now referred to as the Alston Decision, Judge Claudia Wilkin roundly criticised the NCAA (who had appealed her earlier decision) saying that the athletes already receive a number of benefits from the association which would equate to being paid to play.

The courts ruled that college athletes should be compensated for eduction related costs, which stops short of saying that the athlete should be paid for playing but has found middle ground between the current position of “No” to the nirvana of “Yes”. In effect it’s a maybe. Now let’s be clear – this is not a straightforward situation as most colleges give out full scholarships to student athletes to get round such issues. However the court ruling equates this to payment for play. And as such draws no difference between that and actually being paid. This appears a step forward.

The new State Legislation working group, headed up by Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, has been set up to “examine issues highlighted in recently proposed changes to its payment rules” and has been charged with writing a set of overarching principles that apply ‘consistent legislation’ across its division”

And the ‘consistent legislation’ piece is what is requested most by the Sports regulation bodies. Former Secretary of State and now Chair of the Commission on College Basketball, Condoleeza Rice (who also sat on the College Football Play Off Committee) is on record as saying that “most commissioners believe that the rules on name, image, and likeness should be taken up as soon as the legal framework is established’. Ms Rice went on to say “it is hard for the public, and frankly for me, to understand what can be allowed within the college model. For the life of me I don’t understand the difference between Olympic payments and participation in Dancing with the Stars”.

Ms Rice makes reference to Notre Dame’s  basketball player Arike Ogunbowale who appeared on the US version of Strictly and who was indeed paid for her appearance. This was allowed under current NCAA rules as the prize money was in relation to her dancing ability which according to the NCAA was unrelated to her basketball abilities.

Confused? Yes, me too. This seems to completely ignore that fact that Ogunbowale was only on the show because people recognise her as a basketball player for the University of Notre Dame. As we can all attest to Strictly, guests are rarely only known for their “dancing abilities”.

The review is in its early days although the NCAA has set a deadline of receiving the final report by the end of October (smack bang in the middle of the football season) with an update on progress in August.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the NCAA is trying to get a jump on further state and possibly federal legislation and by doing so trying to tie down “deals” with athletes or possibly schools before legislation forces them to pay athletes. This way they can negotiate the outcome. Remember, College sports has no Players Associations which makes all this very tricky and has the potential to be real messy.

August’s update will be both interesting and crucial. We will soon find out how serious the NCAA is about its athletes wellbeing and what it is prepared to deal on.

After all surely we can agree that a School or Organisation or worse still its Governing body profiting from a players likeness now and still in twenty years without the player receiving a single cent, dime or dollar is fundamentally wrong.

Watch this space. Literally.

photo credit: NCAA.com

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