At a time when the NCAA is preparing for one of its signature annual high points, the NCAA could be on the brink of dealing with its biggest loss in years, if not ever.
Oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit led by former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston included questions from justices that suggest the NCAA finally may be facing its reckoning over the failure to compensate football players and other athletes for the billions in revenue they generate.
It’s an antitrust claim, alleging that the NCAA places illegal artificial on the ability of colleges to compete for players, limiting the total expense that any school will incur for its athletes. A federal appeals court previously ruled that the NCAA was not permitted to limit benefits to educational expenses only. Although the decision did not call for the payment of salaries, it opened the door for items like, via the New York Times, “musical instruments, scientific equipment, postgraduate scholarships, tutoring, study abroad, academic awards and internships.”
The NCAA’s best argument is that fans somehow value amateur status. That argument, frankly, is hogwash wrapped in bullspit.
“Consumers will likely come to view NCAA athletics as just another form of minor league sports,” the NCAA argued in written filings to the Supreme Court.
Actually, most consumers view NCAA sports like football and basketball as another form of MAJOR league sports, with the only difference being that the players aren’t fairly compensated for their abilities, risks, and sacrifices.
The plaintiffs are represented by Jeffrey Kessler, a long-time counsel for the NFL Players Association. Accounts from the oral argument show aggressive questioning of both sides, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh making the most spirited attack against the NCAA. Via Gabe Feldman, Kavanaugh asked whether the NCAA is using the notion of amateurism as “cover for exploitation of college athletes.” Also, Justice Clarence Thomas (who rarely poses questions to the lawyers during any oral arguments), asked whether the NCAA tries to limit compensation for coaches in the same way it tries to limit compensation for athletes, in the name of amateurism.
Added Kavanaugh, via Nicole Auerbach of TheAthletic.com, “It does seem . . . that schools are conspiring with competitors to pay no salaries to the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars on the theory that consumers want the schools to pay their workers nothing.”
Although many of fans will argue that the athletes should be happy with a “free education,” few would balk at the athletes getting a fair share of the revenue they generate. That’s ultimately what this is about, as it relates to college football — fairness and equity to players who have no choice (thanks in part to the inherently unfair three-year waiting period implemented by the NFL and NFLPA) but to play college football for peanuts in order to have a chance to make a lot more as a pro.