NCAA vs. O'Bannon could change college sports as we know it

Streeter Lecka

NCAA vs. O'Bannon is a lawsuit about compensating athletes - both current and former - for the use of their likenesses. The numbers involved could hit as much as 50 percent of broadcast revenue if the plaintiffs succeed.

There's an article worth reading from Steve Berkowitz at USA Today about the finances of Division I athletics departments.

* Only 23 of 228 athletics departments at NCAA Division I schools are financially self sufficient - that means that the athletics program at the school can generate enough money to pay for its own expenses.

* The rest had to be subsidized - this means that they got money either from:

a) the state government,
b) the school (non-athletics), or
c) student fees.

Even from these 23 schools, 16 of them took a subsidy in addition to their revenues from athletics. Ten of those 16 took more subsidy money in 2012 than they did in 2011.

That article should be read before you read the one from Dick Weiss over at Blue Star Media.

The article is about NCAA vs. O'Bannon. A good writeup about that case was by Andy Staples over at Sports Illustrated. In effect, former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon sued the NCAA for using his likeness. The NCAA can show reruns of their games, licence athlete names and faces to video games, sell their jerseys, etc. without having to compensate the athlete for it. O'Bannon's contention is that there should be no reason why he shouldn't be compensated now that he is no longer what the NCAA calls a "student-athlete".

In January 2013 the federal judge in charge of the case ruled that current athletes could not only add themselves to the case but could go after anyone getting a slice of the likeness pie. That included the major conferences and major networks as well.

Furthermore, there is argument proposed to create a class-action lawsuit. This would add several thousand current and former athletes to the suit.

The big news? The plaintiffs want half the money. Half of it. According to Sports Illustrated again,


"The plaintiffs are relying heavily on the testimony of expert witness Roger Noll, an economist and former Stanford professor who has testified in numerous sports labor cases. In a paper filed with the court, he argued that athletes should be entitled to 50 percent of broadcast revenue, split evenly among every member of a roster."

The bigger news? The plaintiffs have very high-powered legal representation.

The full case is scheduled to go to trial sometime in February 2014.

So what happens in the worst case scenario. The NCAA is arguing Armageddon, the marrying of cats and dogs, etc. According to Donald Remy, the NCAA's vice president for legal affairs:

"In particular, we would lose the very real opportunity for at least 96% of NCAA male and female student-athletes who do not compete in Division I men's basketball or FBS football to play a sport and get an education, as they do today."

Scary numbers, to be sure, but do you believe them? If the plaintiffs get what they want - 50 percent of the broadcast revenue - then this could have major impact on college sports as we know it. Schools are going to have to replace that money from somewhere, so the question then becomes what to do.

The athletic departments could ask for greater subsidies from the state. They could plead poverty to the administration and the alumni. Most likely, they'd go after the money from those with the least influence and power. Student fees for athletics would probably go up, increasing the cost of tuition across the country. "Low revenue sports" would be targeted for a round of budget cutting. Title IX would provide some protection for women's sports, but those men's wrestling and baseball programs that were eliminated would be told that "it's Title IX's fault" in the time-honored strategy of "let's you and her fight".

By the end of 2014, the world of college sports could be a very different place - and that includes women's basketball - if the plaintiffs get what they're asking for. What kind of place would it be? You can try looking into your crystal ball, but the only response will be "Ask again later".

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