Biting the hand

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Nick Nunn

Nick Nunn

By Nick Nunn

A federal court judge will soon rule on the question of whether or not the anti-trust suit Ed O’Bannon, former UCLA baseball star, has filed against the NCAA should be considered a class-action lawsuit.

Although the fine legal points of the suit would probably be difficult to understand or express within the limits of a short column, the lawsuit boils down to this: the NCAA makes billions of dollars each year by using images and representations of college athletes in television broadcasts, video games, merchandise, etc., and the athletes themselves make no money from those sources.

O’Bannon claims that the NCAA unfairly forces college athletes to sign away their licensing rights and that the NCAA conspired not to pay college athletes for the gains that the NCAA receives on the athletes’ accounts.

Since the scope of the plaintiffs claims potentially extend to the rights to televised broadcasts (how many of you watched a single college game during the football bowl season or March Madness?), the NCAA stands could be forced to pay damages to almost all college athletes, former, present, and future, if the lawsuit becomes class-action.

According to NPR – I know, not the hippest place to get your sporting news – some analysts think that the amount of damage that this type of class-action lawsuit could do to the NCAA would be able to sink it, although it is more likely that the NCAA would decide to settle out of court.

Jim Delaney, Big 10 Commissioner, told NPR that, if these athletes end up winning their suit and collecting damages, a likely outcome will be that many Division I schools will voluntarily move to Division III, where they won’t have to pay future students for those rights and also – won’t be allowed to offer athletic scholarships to future students.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a clearer case to illustrate the proverb “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

I don’t think that the student-athletes who feel that they are being shortchanged by the NCAA and schools that aren’t allowed to “pay” them, given the slippery rules of amateur sporting leagues, have a proper understanding of the financial burdens that a college education places upon the average student., speculates that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state school during the 2012-2013 school year was over $22,000. For that same “moderate” budget at a private school, it was almost $44,000.

Now multiply those numbers by four, and you’ll get some idea of the amount of debt that a college student could leave college with, and, in this recession, it isn’t guaranteed that that graduate will be able to find a job that will enable them to even begin paying off student loans.

Of course, this only takes into consideration the immediate monetary value of paying for the degree, not the value of having that degree and the opportunities that it will afford that student over the course of their entire life.

It is true that the NCAA makes an ungodly amount of money every year on student-athletes, but how much of that is directed back to schools and students?

If the NCAA forces a potential student-athlete to sign away their licensing rights in order to receive a scholarship and the ability to play a sport at the college level, the student-athlete has three choices: abandon the idea of attending college and try their hand at the crap-shoot that is professional sports, pay their own way through college without the aid of student-athlete scholarships, or count their blessings and gratefully accept their free education, which they receive in exchange for playing a sport that they love.

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

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