A 99-page ruling has resulted in one very big problem for the NCAA.
On Friday, years of labeling revenue-generating athletes as “students” in order to justify not sharing with them the billions of dollars that have come from tickets sales, media deals, and other efforts to capitalize on fan interest in college sports took a major step toward finally ending.
Judge Claudia Wilken has issued a decision in the case filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, who challenged the NCAA’s refusal to pay players any of the money generated via video games and other products that lead to profit via their likenesses. The decision applies the ultimate scarlet “A” to the entire collegiate athletics system.
Reliance on the federal antitrust laws to overturn the rule against sharing money generated from player likenesses reinforces the argument that everything about the NCAA system violates federal antitrust laws. By banding together under a four-letter governing body that limits the schools to providing tuition, room, and board only to student-athletes, colleges have prevented fair competition for the services of those student-athletes by restricting what they can receive for the sacrifices they make and the risks they take.
The O’Bannon case was limited to player likenesses. Other pending lawsuits attack all other aspects of the process.
While plenty of conference commissioners and college presidents will now blame the eventual destruction of the current system and the potential elimination of sports that don’t generate revenue on the greed of lawyers, the problem has arisen due to the historic greed of the universities, which gambled on a system that has violated federal antitrust laws for decades without consequence. Those who finally took a stand against generations of wrongdoing shouldn’t be vilified, they should be applauded.
As to the college sports that have a robust market for ticket sales and TV rights, the applause will continue. Schools that were smart enough to come up with a way to illegally profit for all those years from the free labor of athletes also will be smart enough to come up with a way to make money in an environment that soon will require those athletes to be paid fairly for their services, without artificial rules or restrictions that exploit the persons who have been primarily responsible for making the money.
To the extent that the end of any antitrust violations results in less money being available for sports that don’t generate revenue, the potential elimination of those programs will be unfortunate. Still, why should the athletes who play at a high level the sports that generate money subsidize the sports that don’t?