College athletes will get a cut of the sales from their jerseys and from fantasy leagues that use their names in a few years. Just watch.
Given what we know about the NCAA and its capitalism-for-universities and socialism-for-athletes attitude, that idea seems laughable, but it's only a matter of time. The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has taken up the issue, and this particular watchdog group already has proven itself a bulldog before. Remember in 2001, when the Knight Commission issued its "Call to Action?" One of the major planks in the commission's platform was the notion that schools should be penalized for not graduating their players. At the time, everyone smiled and nodded, thinking this group was just another bunch of eggheads who want to send college sports back to dark ages before athletic scholarships.
Well, guess what happened? Thanks to significant pressure from the Knight Commission, the NCAA instituted the Academic Progress Rates system, which allows the NCAA to take away scholarships from programs that don't graduate an acceptable number of players. Washington State, the most pitiful football program in the BCS conferences, can blame its sorry state partially on the APR, which caused the Cougars to lose eight scholarships earlier this year because former coach Bill Doba didn't graduate enough players.
Now, the Knight Commission has taken aim at two of the NCAA's most hypocritical positions. It's fine for the Texas athletic department to get richer selling Colt McCoy's No. 12 or for West Virginia to reap the profits from the sale of Pat White's No. 5, but how dare McCoy or White receive a cut of the action? Meanwhile, CBS, on its Sportsline.com Web site, rakes in money off a college fantasy football game that uses players' names, but the players don't see a dime.
The NCAA sent a letter to CBS this year asking that the practice be stopped. What's next? Will NCAA president Myles Brand prank call CBS honcho Les Moonves? Here's a better idea. Take CBS to court. The NCAA did not, however, threaten legal action on behalf of its low-level employees student-athletes. CBS cited a federal appeals court's ruling that the use of the players' names on a fantasy baseball site was protected by the first amendment. Not that the network needed to respond. The NCAA wasn't going to take any real action. NCAA vice president Wally Renfro said Monday that member schools had not directed it to do so. And why, pray tell, would the NCAA's member schools avoid suing CBS? Could it be the $6.2 billion contract between the network and the NCAA to broadcast the NCAA men's basketball tournament?
"The association does not own the publicity rights of the student-athletes, and that's what this case is about," Renfro said at the meeting. Funny, but the association never seems to mind cracking down on athletes who try to use their publicity rights. In fact, it forbids them from cashing in on the notoriety gained by success in their sport, and it forces their schools to suspend them if they take advantage of those rights. The NCAA seems to have no problem, however, allowing its business partner to make money off their names. Maybe, since the NCAA won't help, the players should file a class-action suit against CBS.
"The student-athlete has been given a scholarship and not made one single nickel," Hall-of-Fame linebacker and Knight Commission member Nick Buoniconti said Monday at the commission's meeting. "They put many, many millions of dollars in the coffers of the universities, and yet no one is willing to go out for them and protect them. I just think it's time for the NCAA to review what their purpose in life is."
During a break in the meeting, Buoniconti, a trustee at Miami, took his argument a step further, debunking the argument that players are paid with scholarships and tutoring services. "That's bull," Buoniconti told reporters from USA Today and The Associated Press. "We earn every single nickel of that scholarship. We put the seats in the stadium. We put the seats in the skyboxes. What do you think the TV networks are showing? Are they showing the president of the university, or are they showing the athletes on the field?"
The idea may seem far-fetched now, but don't be surprised if, in five to 10 years, athletes receive a cut from the jersey sales and fantasy leagues in the form of a trust accessible after graduation or as a post-graduate scholarship. The Knight Commission has seized on this particular issue, and when the commission gets something meaty in its jaws, it doesn't let go.