As the name, image and likeness rights of college athletes has been intricately discussed throughout the ongoing O'Bannon vs. NCAA trial, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said that the conversation of compensation for the use of the likeness is centered around a small percentage of athletes.
Patterson spoke to the Sports Business Journal in a wide-ranging interview at the College World Series, where Texas was playing before being eliminated on Saturday night against Vanderbilt.
“We’re spending all of this time talking about one-half of 1 percent of our student athletes [who have the power to market their likeness]. Not the 99.5 percent of student athletes who are supported by these programs. What we’re giving our student athletes, in terms of academic, athletic, financial aid, support for room and board, training, mentoring, student services, tutoring, is more than the average household income. And for some of our teams, it’s pushing into $70,000 a year per student athlete, and pushes into the top third of household incomes. Tell me one guy whose likeness is worth more than the average household income. … There was one guy last year. [Patterson holds his hands up and rubs his fingers together like Johnny Manziel.]
“It’s absolutely agents and trial lawyers that are the whole reason we’re talking about this. You’ve got guys like Jay Bilas out there making the claim that scholarships aren’t worth anything, and nobody says anything to discredit that. … So who is saying with any rationality or any fact that student athletes on a full ride aren’t getting something? They’re just flat-out wrong and they’re liars. And they’re doing the bidding of agents and trial lawyers. The longer everybody waddles around acting like it’s not about agents and trial lawyers, the more silliness we’re going to have out there.”
College athletes in all sports are currently prohibited from profiting off of the use of their image. Like Patterson contends above, the NCAA and schools feel that the benefits that college athletes receive while in school are fair.
However, we think Patterson is way off when estimating the number of players with likenesses worth more than $70,000. Jameis Winston and Jadeveon Clowney, to name a couple, would easily eclipse the figure in endorsements if they were allowed. So would Michael Sam in retrospect, had his announcement been made before the season. And that's just a short list in college football. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, among others, would also be in that group.
And there's also another problem with the figures Patterson uses. Because of the varying costs of education at universities around the country, the figures aren't consistent. At Stanford, a scholarship is "worth" more to an athlete than it is at a state school like Alabama. Without a consistent baseline, it's impossible to judge their true value.
Which is another reason why images and likenesses have become a hot topic. The endorsement market would determine what players are worth, similar to how the job market works. It's not a perfect solution, but it's become apparent that the current setup is far from perfect either.
Patterson also wholeheartedly endorsed the autonomy measures that many in the Power Five conferences are proposing and even seconded the threat of separation if the reforms aren't passed.
Perhaps ironically, the support for the Power Five autonomy is based off the same basic premise that many who support college athletics reform are advocating. Schools (or players) with the most resources (ability and starpower) should be able to provide for the best outcomes for themselves (compensation for the use of their likeness).
“It’s a part of the everyday business right now. There’s five conferences that want to do the best they can for their student athletes and provide them with the best outcomes. There’s a bunch of other schools that are fairly atavistic in their viewpoints and want to take the rules back to 1950. That’s not going to happen. They need to let the more well-resourced conferences operate, or these five conferences need to leave. It’s that simple. We’ve waited far too long and we’ve been far too accommodating. … I think there’s a harder and harder resolve as each day goes by for the institutions in higher-profile conferences to take the necessary moves.”
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