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Editorial: O’Bannon ruling changes everything

In this photo taken Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010, former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon Jr. sits in his office in Henderson, Nev. O'Bannon is part of a lawsuit seeking revenue sharing for NCAA athletes. "There are millions and millions of dollars being made off the sweat and grind of the student athlete," O'Bannon said. "Student athletes see none of that other than their education." (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

In this photo taken Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010, former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon Jr. sits in his office in Henderson, Nev. O'Bannon is part of a lawsuit seeking revenue sharing for NCAA athletes. "There are millions and millions of dollars being made off the sweat and grind of the student athlete," O'Bannon said. "Student athletes see none of that other than their education." (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is about to change the way it treats its top athletes, and the ripple effect could be significant, including for female athletes.

Earlier this month, District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in the O’Bannon case that the NCAA has been in violation of antitrust laws for prohibiting athletes from being paid.

As part of the ruling, Division I football and basketball players could receive at least $5,000 a year in a trust for each year they participate. That means a Florida State left tackle who plays four years could leave college with a degree and $20,000, plus interest. Schools wouldn’t be required to provide the payment that’s intended to compensate each athlete for the use of his or her name and image – and many smaller schools may choose not to – but the NCAA wouldn’t be able to prevent them from doing so.

One question that emerged from the ruling was whether that kind of compensation is compatible with Title IX, the 1972 law that mandates gender equity for schools that receive federal funding.

In an article for Deadspin.com, antitrust economist Andy Schwarz said any claims that Wilkens’s ruling and Title IX are incompatible are “simply false.”

Schwarz argues that because the payments would likely be considered part of a financial aid package, they would fall under the “substantial proportionality” piece of Title IX.

Substantial proportionality refers not just to the balance between of male varsity athletes vs. female varsity athletes but also equitable financial aid compensation.

In practice that means that if, as Schwarz explains, a school decides to spend X amount of dollars more on men’s sports, it could either spend a proportional amount on female athletes or determine an overall figure for additional aid for athletes and divide it equally between men and women in order to comply with Title IX.

In fact, Wilkens’s ruling could turn out to be a very good thing for Title IX. Should colleges fail to offer more money to female athletes, it wouldn’t take long for the lawsuits to pile up.

Ultimately, the Title IX incompatibility argument is just another element of the “sky is falling” complaint.

Wilkens’s ruling, which will be appealed by the NCAA, laid bare some of the more laughable aspects of top-tier Division I basketball and football programs, not least of which is the NCAA’s amateurism defense. As the New York Times recently stated, the very idea of the student-athlete is now history.

The ruling in favor of former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs is just the beginning. Other cases challenging the NCAA’s long-standing exploitative policies are on the move – including one filed by Northwestern’s football team with help from Concord’s Luke Bonner and the College Athletes Players Association.

The NCAA will never be the same – and it’s about time.

Legacy Comments1

Let’s stop playing the word games. Full scholarships for these athletes are compensation just like this $5K would be. Let the players cut any deal they want with a school or a pro team. Everyone knows college is just a farm league. Pay them the money, let them pay for the education out of it and then let them pay taxes on the earnings. Who really cares if they even attend a class, it's all just business.

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