Sports Nest: Epic NCAA ruling changes everything

By Matt Nestor
Sports Columnist

The landmark Ed O’Bannon v. NCAA ruling has come down. The decision will likely go through lengthy appeal proceedings. But the ruling is a total game-changer in the world of college athletics.

O’Bannon was challenging the NCAA’s ability to use the name, likeness and image of their athletes for profit. While they didn’t win on all points, Judge Claudia Wilken ultimately ruled that the NCAA cannot stop any school or conference from paying players money that is generated through the use of their names and images.

That will be a massive change in the landscape when it comes to the world of college sports.

College sports has evolved in the last 30 years into a major money-making business. The idealistic rules of amateurism that the NCAA clung to so badly have long since gone away.

It is great to think of athletes getting a chance to continue their education and set themselves up for a good job after college, thanks to their ability to throw a football or shoot a basketball. But winning at the college level now trumps everything.

Players spend hours per day, hours per week, prepping for the next game, trying to get noticed by professional leagues. There is so much travel, playing all over the country. As most of the testimony in the case by former athletes stated, school is presented as secondary in importance to their sport.

That is not to say there are not athletes out there who are not using this opportunity to get a degree and get a good job. But sports is such a high-stakes game that for those who are there for the education, sports can get in the way of school. But they can’t afford school without the sports. It’s a no-win situation.

At least now, it can be a win for the players. They now have the ability to earn money for their exploits on the field. It sounds as though it will be deferred and not accessible until after graduation. But at least there is a tangible benefit, a safety net if you will, for players when they are done.

The amount is not set in stone. Originally, it was reported that there was a cap of $5,000 per year. Now, some say that $5,000 per year is the minimum schools have to offer if they decide to.

Schools are going to cry poor. They will cite the money that athletics generate and how that is invested in the school and help other departments stay afloat.

That is a hard argument to believe. With school costs higher than ever, coaches and athletic directors making multi-millions of dollars per year in salary, and tournaments and bowl games rights earning hundreds of millions of dollars every year, it is hard to believe that school budgets will be killed by $5,000 a year to players.

Even the biggest of programs out there would likely be looking at around $1 million per year out of their budget; certainly no more than $5 million out of pocket, depending on what they are allowed to do. I’m sure the way coaches love to win, they won’t mind taking a little of their salary to direct that toward their players. At least if they care about players the way they say they do.

This is still a few years away from implementation, but down the road, this is going to kick recruiting up another level. Another ruling recently by the NCAA said the “Big Five” conferences can make their own rules. Certainly, we’re not too far away from literal bidding wars for a player’s services.

Could Illinois emerge in the Big Ten by offering home-grown players who often go to Ohio State or Michigan more money to stay home? Does Kansas or Kentucky drop as a basketball power because they cheap out on players?

All sorts of things are in play. But at the end of the day, this is a great ruling for the players. It is wonderful that schools give away an education to good players. And a good education is worth a lot. But if your school is making tens of millions on your ability, it is only fair that you get a little bit of it.

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From the Aug. 13-19, 2014, issue

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