Author: Dylan Bordonaro
As college football teams gear up for the coming postseason, the bowl games’ sponsors are preparing their gifts for the players. This is a rare exception to the NCAA’s amateurism policies — sponsors are permitted to give up to $550 worth of gifts to each player.
The NCAA has long held that collegiate athletes cannot receive compensation beyond scholarships and minimal stipends to maintain their amateur status. However, as players make modest gains in their fight for compensation in court, the NCAA should concede policies that do not allow players to be paid for sales directly tied to their name or do not directly cut into NCAA revenue.
While the NCAA has preached for years that athletes’ first priority should be academics, they are, more importantly, protecting their revenue through these amateurism policies. Until recently, student-athletes have struggled to gain an inch in this fight.
The NCAA’s policies are strict and extensive. The fact that they work to protect their revenue, which mostly comes from television contracts, is logical. However, the NCAA’s overbearing reach does not even allow players to collect any share of profits on sales that are directly tied to their name. This includes jersey sales or, until recently, for their portrayals in video games, or for things that do not adversely affect the NCAA’s revenue at all, such as charging for their own autographs.
One of the largest scandals occurred during the 2009–10 season when Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor received cash and tattoos in exchange for autographs. The NCAA, which did not directly lose revenue as a result of Pryor’s (and other teammates’) actions, ludicrously exerted its authority by levying heavy sanctions against the Ohio State University that included a one-year postseason ban. Terrelle Pryor decided not to return the following season, beloved sweater vest-wearing head coach Jim Tressel resigned and the NCAA lost the Big Ten powerhouse’s infallible national presence as they were forced into mediocrity.
The legal battle over players’ representations in video games came to a head in July when United States District Court Judge Claudia Wilkens approved a $60 million settlement by Electronic Arts (EA) and thousands of college athletes. The case, which was spearheaded by former UCLA Bruin (and Division I basketball national champion) Ed O’Bannon, will disperse amounts between $1,000 and just over $7,000 to over 20,000 former student athletes who appeared in EA’s video games.
The NCAA continues to fight to protect its nearly $1 billion in revenue in court, including its relationship with EA, while the courts are now consistently giving more rights to players. Most recently, the courts (as an extension of the O’Bannon case) have allowed stipends up to the total cost of attending a university, not just for tuition, room and board.
The NCAA can more effectively protect their revenue not by continuing to wage their war on player compensation, but rather by protecting the players’ rights. Allowing players to own the rights to their names, such as by charging for their autographs, will create a sustainable future for both the NCAA and its players.
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