The Ed O’Bannon trial being conducted in Oakland could change the face of the NCAA. A long-time collegiate athletics observer told me this trial could change college sport more than anything in the history of the NCAA.
O’Bannon and 19 other plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would allow players to sell their rights to their names, images and likenesses in broadcasts and video games.
The video game craze has resulted in teams like Oklahoma being marketed with players incredibly patterned after current players, sans their names. One game from last year even had a tall, big-armed, slow-footed Sooner quarterback from New Mexico. Landry Jones was from New Mexico.
So O’Bannon has an absolute point. Whether he wins or not, I don’t have a clue. My legal mind is not strong enough to foretell court decisions.
But court cases like this are harmful to the NCAA even if it should prevail. It rolls back the veil a little bit to reveal hypocrisy.
Remember when Jay Bilas tweeted out the NCAA website hawking individual jerseys – Johnny Manziel’s No. 2, for example – and the NCAA hurriedly got out of that marketing?
Same thing is happening in the O’Bannon trial.
NCAA president Mark Emmert took to the stand Thursday and said athletes wouldn’t want to play against other athletes who were getting paid.
“They want to know everyone is playing by the same rules,” Emmert said. “They want to know the other teams consist of student athletes just like them.”
Oh brother. Two things here. Just exactly when did the desires of athletes start mattering? And has Emmert checked the major college football schedules this season or any of the last 20?
Playing by the same rules?
Texas A&M-Lamar. Oklahoma State-Missouri State. Nebraska-McNeese State. Oregon-South Dakota. Baylor-Northwestern Louisiana. Alabama-Western Carolina. Florida State-The Citadel. Missouri-South Dakota State. Wisconsin-Western Illinois. Arkansas-Nicholls State. Clemson-South Carolina State. Auburn-Samford. Michigan-Appalachian State. South Carolina-Furman. Texas Tech-Central Arkansas. LSU-Sam Houston State. Georgia Tech-Wofford. Arizona State-Weber State. Kansas State-Stephen F. Austin. Virginia Tech-William & Mary. North Carolina-Liberty.
That’s just some of the games scheduled this season between schools from major conferences – with their billion-dollar television contracts – and schools from Division I-AA.
And what does that mean? That means teams playing by different sets of rules. I-A schools give out 85 scholarships. I-AA schools give out 65 scholarships.
Emmert says players don’t want to play under such circumstances, and he’s right. In the wrong direction. The 85-scholarship schools don’t want to play outmanned foes.
The Cowboys don’t want to play Missouri State. The Crimson Tide players don’t want to play Western Carolina. The Cornhuskers don’t want to play McNeese State.
But they are asked to because the lower-division opponent supplies an extra home game that helps fill the coffers, and coaches don’t face a foe that could actually beat their team and cause fans to ask why are they paying such salaries for a mediocre record.
I am actually on the NCAA’s side for much of this argument. I don’t believe college athletes should be employees. I don’t think they should get a paycheck, because that would tear apart the fabric of college athletics, in a variety of ways.
But I do believe athletes should get a full scholarship that includes the cost of attendance, which many non-athlete students get, if it’s affordable by the university. And I do believe they should be given the same kinds of freedoms other students get, such as transfers without strict penalties. And I do believe that if video companies are going to make games with Landry Jones’ likeness, Landry Jones should be paid.
Emmert did the NCAA no favors Thursday. He said one reason fans like college sports is they believe the athletes are really students who play for a love of the sport and for their school and their community.
That’s the biggest crock from a witness stand since the O.J. trial. Nobody much believes that any more. Fans believe that kind of nonsense from the Thunder than they do the Sooners or Cowboys.
Fans enjoy the college sports experience because their teams win while having the name of the fans’ school on their jerseys.
Some athletes end up having a strong affinity for their school. Some don’t. Some fans end up feeling an affinity for that affinity. Some don’t.
That’s about a 25 percent crapshoot. Quit riding that horse, NCAA.