NCAA President Mark Emmert likely listened to Jay Z on his way home from work Friday evening; angrily singing along to Jay's "99 Problems" track.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken issued a 99-page decision, ruling in favor of Ed O'Bannon and the plaintiffs, and against the NCAA; issuing a permanent injunction, allowing players at big schools to have money generated by television contracts put into a trust fund to pay them when they leave school. The Court found "that the challenged NCAA rules unreasonably restrain trade in the market for certain educational and athletic opportunities offered by NCAA Division I schools."
As part of her ruling, Wilken rejected the NCAA's definitions of amateurism and its justification for not paying players. That definition reads, er, read:
"Amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority. In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second. The NCAA membership has adopted amateurism rules to ensure the students' priority remains on obtaining a quality educational experience and that all of its student-athletes are competing equitably."
Wilken ruled that the NCAA can't stop players from selling the rights to their names, images or likenesses; striking down NCAA regulations that prohibit players from getting anything other than scholarships for the cost of attendance at schools. However, her ruling did stop short of awarding the much ballyhooed financial windfall plaintiffs' counsel had hoped for.
She set a $5,000 per year cap on money to be paid to athletes for use of their names and images; further limiting the applicable pool of athletes eligible to be paid to football and men's basketball players at big football and basketball schools. The potential payments will be paid into a trust, payable to the applicable athletes only after they have ceased playing intercollegiate athletics. However, if a school does not try to sell anything with the players' names, images or likenesses, there will be no money to pay into the trust fund. This carve-out seems to leave-open the potential for particularly murky interpretation and further litigation.
This outcome seems at least somewhat fair, given that "the NCAA's witnesses stated that their concerns about student-athlete compensation would be minimized or negated if compensation was capped at a few thousand dollars per year." But, this case never should have had to happen in the first place.
In what seems like a footnote to Friday's decision, the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors voted on Thursday to allow schools in the top five conferences to write many of their own rules. The O'Bannon case — and cases in its ilk — could have been altogether avoided or dismissed as moot — if only the Board had done this months, or years ago.
The Board's vote "recognizes that there are some differences, and programs at our level have some unique challenges, have some relationships with student-athletes that are evolving. We need to have rules that respond to that evolution and those changes. I think it's an acknowledgement that some of us have challenges that are unique. It's because of those challenges that we felt we needed an opportunity to control a little more of our destiny."
The "Big 5's" new-found autonomy measures will allow the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC and Pac 12, and Notre Dame to decide collectively, for themselves, on such issues as "cost-of-attendance stipends and insurance benefits for players, recruiting rules, and mandatory hours spent on individual sports."
And so, the rules have been thrown out the window. After O'Bannon, and with the guidance of the commissioners of the power(ful) five conferences, only one thing is certain — certain athletes in certain sports in certain schools in certain conferences are no longer student-athletes. They're athlete-students at best; most just athletes. That's sad; and, that's everyone's fault.
What is uncertain is just how much the game(s) will change. The O'Bannon case ruled on the antitrust implications on (student) athletes' rights to compensation for the use of their images and likenesses. The Big Five's vote may allow (student) athletes to double-dip — also getting paid-to-play, etc. Recruiting, (coaching) staff sizes, and extra perquisites and benefits to players and their families are all now fair game.
Hopefully, this short circuits the unionization efforts led by Northwestern's (student) athletes, as that endeavor would have proven itself to be worse than foolish; ending-up doing more harm than good to (student) athletes who, if they could have proven e.g. disparate working conditions at Northwestern's Ivy League-styled campus, may have ended up winning the right to pay taxes on their scholarships, etc.
And, don't look now, but ... with the O'Bannon and Board's decisions' football and men's basketball foci, this is only the beginning. It is only a matter of time before the amicus briefs and/or new lawsuits and interest groups begin being filed, brought and formed on the part of those who will inevitably feel that both decisions violate the spirit of and rights conferred by Title IX.
Reach Matt Laczkowski at 410-857-7896 or email@example.com.