Football games don’t begin for about three weeks, but college sports has its first winners and losers of the season.
Two major decisions in about a 30-hour period Thursday and Friday shook the landscape. First, the NCAA granting governing autonomy to the power conferences was seen by some as creating a new, über-class of 65 schools. A gated community of programs, so to speak.
Next, a lawsuit headlined by former UCLA basketball standout Ed O’Bannon prevailed in U.S. District Court over the NCAA and will allow college athletes to cash in on their likeness — get paid like a pro — while taking classes.
The impact of these outcomes won’t be felt immediately. Look at the 2014-15 academic calendar as a transition year with leaders working to repurpose a college sports structure build over a century. When it all shakes out, some will feel more fortunate than others.
WINNER: High-profile athletes in football and men’s basketball.
Full cost of attendance, which is dollars beyond room, books, board and tuition, extended medical coverage, more access to the training table are just a few of the benefits expected for all athletes from the autonomy ruling.
Payment from a name, image or likeness for football and basketball players of at least $5,000 annually in deferred compensation came in Friday’s gift basket with the O’Bannon ruling.
Question: Are bowl games still on the hook for $500 swag bags?
LOSER: Students sitting next to high profile athletes in class
Yeah, you who worked two summer jobs and still had to hit up your parents and the government for loans. By the way, fall semester tuition bills are due next month.
WINNER: Sonny Vaccaro
Vaccaro, the 75-year-old former executive for Nike, Adidas and Reebok, was among the first and loudest to rail against the NCAA profiting from athletes from mostly lower income families who were generating the wealth.
In an interview with USA Today, Vaccaro said, “…on my tombstone, if something is written about me other than hopefully being a decent human being, I helped these kids get recognized.”
LOSER: Mark Emmert
Maybe closer to a split decision for the NCAA president, who praised the autonomy vote as “representing a compromise that will better serve our members, and most importantly, our student athletes.”
But when testifying in the O’Bannon trial in June, Emmert soured on the idea of deferred compensation.
“It’s the same whether you’re paid today or paid tomorrow,” he testified. “To covert college sports into professional sports would be tantamount to converting it to minor-league sports.”
You could argue college football and basketball have served the NFL and NBA well as de facto minor leagues.
LOSER: The amateur ideal
Once upon a time, the term amateur in sports conveyed a moral cause. Fair play, honor and gentlemanly competition were its codes. The concept started in 19th Century England to separate the aristocratic elite from competing against the working class.
But over the years, the amateur meaning changed. It meant not getting paid. Applied to college sports, the amateurs, the athletes, were benefiting from a scholarship and other values of being a team member. But the salaries of athletic administrators and coaches were soaring as television networks bought major conference rights fees for billions.
The amateur ideal just took one in the shorts.
WINNER: The Southeastern Conference
Not just because the SEC always wins in the arena. The league is a few days away from launching the most successful sports network start-up in television history. More than 90 million households will have access to the SEC Network starting Thursday and the carriage rates will range from a quarter outside the league footprint to $1.30 in the league’s 11 states.
Estimates have varied on the value of network but the subscriber rates alone figure to bring some $600 million to the league annually, and it will become the richest of the conferences. Finding the money to fund the new initiatives? It’s in the SEC couch cushions.
TIE: College sports
Changing the economic model doesn’t alter the identity of major college sports programs. Alabama and Southern California have been, are and will be good in football. Same for Kentucky, Duke and Kansas in basketball.
Kansas State athletic director John Currie put it best. Earlier this week, he was asked about the impact of an O’Bannon victory on his athletic program. He didn’t know. Nobody does. “But whatever change comes,” he said, “we’ll figure out a way to manage.”