For decades, the NCAA provided collective cover for major colleges to hide behind the rules when refusing to give college athletes in revenue-generating sports an actual cut of the revenue they generate. The NCAA kicked the can until the Supreme Court kicked its ass, making it crystal clear in 2021 that any effort by various competing institutions to place artificial limits on the amounts given to those who play the games — and make the money for the schools — constitute an antitrust violation.
On July 1, the NCAA allowed the name, image, and likeness floodgates to open, because it had no choice. Reeling from the Supreme Court’s fairly narrow ruling, augmented by some strong words from Justice Brett Kavanaugh as to how broadly the reasoning applies, the NCAA removed all limits to the abilities of players to capitalize on their fame.
It has, predictably, created a wild-west mentality. So wild that the NCAA now hopes to place some toothpaste back in the tube, via efforts to limit the abilities of boosters (who otherwise would be boosting the coffers of the boosted universities). The NCAA is on notice that this will cross a bright line.
“The moment they come to try to interfere with one of my clients’ deals — the next day is the moment they get hit with an antitrust lawsuit,” attorney Mike Caspino recently told TheAthletic.com. “They’re saying there’s a whole class of people who can’t participate in the market for athletes’ NIL rights. That’d be like saying red-haired people can’t buy meat. That’s antitrust.”
Indeed it is, but the NCAA apparently is willing to accept the very real possibility of eventual liability in order to get things under control, perhaps while lobbying Congress for federal legislation that would accomplish what the NCAA cannot.
“We had to make a business decision to say, ‘You know what? This is a line in the sand,’” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told TheAthletic.com. “There’s going to be risk with the position that we’re going to take. There always is with these types of things. We could get sued. But, for the betterment of the whole and all the student-athletes we serve, we’ve got to take that risk.”
It’s more than a risk. It’s a deliberate decision to commit an antitrust violation in order to buy time, accepting that the consequences will be less dire than allowing the floodgates to continue to spill water all over the landscape of college sports.
Through it all, the NCAA has gotten what it deserves for wrongfully denying fair compensation for the kids who have been responsible for creating the cash but who have not fairly shared in it. And if it keeps pushing back against this new reality, it will only get worse.
Some voices are calling for acceptance.
“We’ve got to stop complaining,” Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey said Tuesday. “This is the world we’re in, and last time I checked, we make pretty good money. So everybody should shut up and adjust.”
Indeed they should. That’s far better than the NCAA deliberately violating federal law because, quite simply, it thinks it has no better plan.