TIME College Sports

Landmark College Sports Verdict: Harsh, but in the End Puzzling

Ed O'Bannon Jr.
Former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon Jr. sits in his office in Henderson, Nev., Sept. 18, 2010. Isaac Brekken—AP

The judge's injunction in the Ed O'Bannon cases leaves plenty room to further challenge the NCAA's business model down the road

Since the pace of change in college sports is glacial, consider the events of this year – even this past week – a revolution. The latest came down on Friday: a federal judge in the Northern District of California handed down her much-anticipated ruling in the Ed O’Bannon anti-trust case. In a crushing defeat for the NCAA, Judge Claudia Wilken picked apart the NCAA’s long-cherished – though clearly illogical – reasons for failing to fairly compensate college athletes in the sports that produce the bulk of the revenues. Big-time college football players and Division 1 basketball players are now able to earn a cut of licensing revenues from the use of their name, image, and likeness; schools can cap this pay, but the minimum cap is $5,000 per year. This money will be put in a trust that an athlete can access once he or she has graduated or left the school.

The NCAA will very likely appeal the ruling. “We disagree with the Court’s decision that the NCAA rules violate antitrust laws,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement. Wilken said that her injunction could not be stayed during any legal challenge, but would not go into effect until beginning of the next football and basketball recruiting cycles, which get going during the summer of 2015. If the case survives appeal, all future athletes who leave school having earned at least $20,000 during a four-year career owe a debt to O’Bannon. The former UCLA hoops star, who won a national title in 1995, first brought the case forward in 2009 after noticing that his image was being used in a college basketball video game, yet he didn’t receive a dime.

The NCAA has been smacked around. The courts – and some of the schools themselves – have recognized the fundamental hypocrisy of college sports: revenues have soared, and coaches can make millions, while compensation for athletes is limited to a scholarship. Free tuition, room and board is valuable, surely, but many players are worth even more. Wilken also determined that the NCAA could not cap direct compensation below the cost of attendance, which is an extra $2,000 to $5,000 above the athletic scholarship grant covering personal expenses like transportation, clothing and entertainment. The schools, however, had already moved on that one: the NCAA voted on Thursday to allow schools in the Big 5 power conferences – the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC – to set some of their own rules, and these schools are prepared to offer their athletes these cost-of-attendance stipends. Schools in the other Division 1 conferences are welcome to join them.

In March, a regional director for the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern University are indeed employees, and directed the school to hold a unionization vote. The board’s national office has yet to weigh in on the school’s appeal. Unions could help players gain than even more money at the bargaining table.

“If you look at the Northwestern union decision and the O’Bannon case, here you have two significant departures from the way judges and the government traditionally view at the role of student-athletes in college athletics,” says Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane University Sports Law Program. “If this is the trend, it could be the beginning of the end of the NCAA’s model,” Feldman added.

Wilken’s injunction alone did not entirely blow up the NCAA’s business. Schools can still cap trust payments at $5,000 per year and prevent athletes from receiving third-party endorsements. But her condemnation of the NCAA is sweeping, and almost invites a future plaintiff to try to tear everything down and create a true open market for college athletes.

Some damning examples from the text of the ruling:

  • “The evidence … demonstrates that student-athletes are harmed by the price-fixing agreement among FBS football and Division 1 basketball schools.” In other words, if you’ve played big-time college football or basketball, particularly during the extreme growth period of the last decade or so, you’ve gotten totally screwed. In this section, Wilken notes that the NCAA’s own economic expert called the organization a “cartel” in a textbook he wrote. The NCAA’s effort to keep operating as-is comes off as desperate and silly.
  • “Although the NCAA sought to establish the importance of these restrictions by asserting that they increase consumer interest in FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) and Division 1 basketball, its evidence supporting this assertion is unpersuasive.” Finally, we can put to bed the defense that paying college players would cause fans to stop watching games or going to them. After all, what else are you going to do on fall Saturdays? Plus, tailgates are a way of life, and fun as hell. Wilken cites the Olympics and Major League Baseball to back her up. People fretted about allowing professionals into the Olympics, and fought baseball free agency, under the guise that more money for athletes would ruin everything. Yet, the Olympics remain extremely popular, and baseball is economically strong.
  • “The number of schools participating in FBS football and Division 1 basketball has increased steadily over time and continues to increase today … Although [NCAA president Mark] Emmert and other NCAA and conference officials say that this trend is not the result of increased Division 1 revenues, but, rather, because of the schools’ philosophical commitment to amateurism, this theory is implausible.” Translate ”implausible” from the legalese and you have a much stronger word: a federal judge has officially called B.S. on amateurism, which has pretty much been the bedrock of the NCAA’s existence. Schools clamor to play big-time sports to win games and raise a school’s profile and attract more money. If they truly cared about some idyllic, love-of-the-game “amateur” ideal, they’d move down into Division 3. Of course, no schools have done that, and wouldn’t take such action if they had to pay players more, despite protests that these payments are too expensive. “The NCAA’s assertion that schools would leave FBS and Division 1 for financial reasons if the challenged restraints were removed is not credible,” Wilken writes. Ouch, more rough rhetoric. How does Wilken know that FBS schools will still play on? One of the NCAA’s own witnesses, University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides, said as much, testifying that his school “would probably continue to compete in football and men’s basketball” if current compensation caps were lifted. The NCAA has a witness problem.

One key question does arise from Wilken’s finding: If the NCAA’s current payment cap is anti-competitive and harms athletes, why is the cap on a trust fund, somewhat arbitrarily set at $5,000 per year, not anti-competitive? While Wilken goes on for pages ripping apart the NCAA’s arguments with strong evidence, the support for her own assertion that compensation limits are justified is far less convincing.

In the ruling, for example, Wilken addresses the main concern about a true open labor market: “These administrators noted, depending on how much compensation was ultimately awarded, some student-athletes might receive more money from the school than their professors. Student-athletes might be more inclined to separate themselves from the broader campus community by living and socializing off campus.”

Wilken then brings up the flaws of such thinking. “It is not clear that any of the potential problems identified by the NCAA’s witnesses would be unique to student athletes.” Yup, there are plenty of kids on college campuses with lush trust funds and nice cars and access to spending money on college campuses. Most of them haven’t earned it. That’s fine. But if a kid who has worked his tail off playing football or basketball, who might be from a poor family, who’s helping generate millions for the school, is paid a market wage and sets foot on campus with some cash? That’s somehow offensive.

The judge goes here with her line of questioning. “In fact, when the Court asked Dr. Emmert whether other wealthy students – such as those from rich families or start successful businesses during school – raise all of the same problems for campus relations, he replied that they did.” What, really? Haven’t heard of the rich-kid scourge tearing apart college campuses. Wilken continues: “It is also not clear why paying student-athletes would be any more problematic for campus relations than paying other students who provide services to the university, such as members of the student government or school newspaper.”

In three sentences, Wilken legitimizes the arguments pay-for-play advocates have been making for years. So her big conclusion is … “Nonetheless, the Court finds that certain limited restrictions on student-athlete compensation may help integrate student-athletes into the academic communities of their schools, which may in turn improve the schools’ education product.”

What? Here’s another way to read this part of the ruling. Wilken: “Athletes should be paid. Athletes should be paid. Athletes should be paid. So we’ll pay them, but set limits. Why? Err … well, because, ‘nonetheless?’”

After this puzzling paragraph, she does site some justification for her finding. She refers to a survey in which many respondents said they would be less likely to watch college athletics if players were paid $20,000 or $50,000 per year. Wilken supposes that respondents would say they’d keep watching college sports if they had been given a lower figure in the survey – like, say, $5,000 per year. Wilken might be correct. But assumed answers to a survey is pretty weak evidence to support a legal ruling.

She gives some weight to the testimony of Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir, who said, “Where I set the dollar limit, you know, that varies, but it does concern me when we’re talking about six figures, seven figures in some cases.” Muir, however, is far from an independent witness. Stanford is a member of the NCAA. So we’re setting compensation caps because an employer would rather not pay an employee big money? Of course Muir is not comfy; he’s management, and every employer on the planet tries to keep labor costs as low as possible. And by the way, would a six, seven figure paycheck be as concerning to the athlete who actually received it?

Plus, by bringing up baseball to knock down the NCAA, Wilken undermines her own arguments. Yes, free agency showed that players making money would not destroy the sport. In fact, free agents compete in an open market, make millions and millions of dollars – and baseball is still popular. So why wouldn’t college sports still be popular, if the athletes – most of whom would make far, far less than pro baseball players – had the opportunity to maximize their wealth?

Such unanswered questions could be tackled by future plaintiffs – and their lawyers. Wilken, maybe by design, has left grist for more legal challenges to the college sports model. One suit already filed, and likely boosted by the O’Bannon ruling, is an anti-trust claim led by high-profile sports labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, who helped NFL players gain free agency. He’s essentially seeking the same for college players.

The next Ed O’Bannon, now’s your time.

TIME

Judge Rules Against NCAA in O’Bannon Case

A federal judge has ruled that the NCAA can’t stop college football and basketball players from selling the rights to their names and likenesses, opening the way to athletes getting payouts once their college careers are over.

In a landmark decision issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others in a lawsuit that challenged the NCAA’s regulation of college athletics on antitrust grounds.

In a partial victory for the NCAA, though, Wilken said the NCAA could set a cap on the money paid to athletes, as long as it allows at least $5,000 a year for big school football and basketball players.

Wilken was not asked to rule on the fairness of a system that pays almost everyone but the athletes themselves. Instead, the case was centered on federal antitrust law and whether the prohibition against paying players promotes the game of college football and does not restrain competition in the marketplace.

The plaintiffs gave up their right to damages in a pretrial move that meant the case would be heard only by the judge and not a jury. But even without monetary damages for former players the case was a battle over hundreds of millions of dollars in television contracts that attorneys for the plaintiffs said should be shared with the athletes themselves.

In a scathing post trial brief, they argued that the NCAA basically staked its defense on a 1984 Supreme Court decision that said the fundamental rule of amateurism was at the core of the NCAA’s regulation of college athletics and that the organization could have suggested other remedies to help athletes to justify its control of the college sports marketplace.

“In some places, it is as if our three-week trial did not occur,” plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote.

Attorneys for the NCAA, though, said moving away from the concept of amateurism would drive spectators away from college sports and would upset the competitive balance among schools and conferences. They said some of the relief sought by the plaintiffs would allow for third parties to play players and that universities would lose control of their programs.

Several players testified during the trial that they viewed playing sports as their main occupation in college, saying the many hours they had to devote to the sport made it difficult — if not impossible — to function like regular students.

O’Bannon portrayed himself as a dedicated athlete who would stay after games to work on his shot if needed, but not much of a student. He said his job at UCLA was to play basketball and took up so much time that just making it to class was difficult.

“I was an athlete masquerading as a student,” said O’Bannon, star of the 1995 UCLA team that won the national title. “I was there strictly to play basketball. I did basically the minimum to make sure I kept my eligibility academically so I could continue to play.”

But witnesses called by the NCAA during the trial spoke of the education provided athletes as payment for their services and said the college model has functioned well for more than a century. They contended that paying players would make college sports less popular and could force schools to cut other programs funded by the hundreds of millions of dollars taken in by big time athletics.

The head of the Big Ten painted a dire picture of what college sports would look like in his testimony, saying his conference would likely cease to exist and the Rose Bowl would probably not be played.

Jim Delany said the idea of paying players goes against the entire college experience and he couldn’t see league members agreeing to it. If some did, he said, they likely would be kicked out of the conference because the move would create an imbalance among schools that could not be resolved.

“There wouldn’t be a Rose Bowl if either they or we were operating in a very different wavelength in terms of paying players,” Delany said

That theme has since been echoed by college and conference administrators, even as they move forward on plans — prompted by the O’Bannon suit and others — to give expanded benefits to athletes in the 65 schools that comprise the five biggest conferences in the country.

“I fear that we will get past the change and then we’ll realize that all the gymnastics programs went away, or that we have agents on campus all the time negotiating playing time for student athletes,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in July. “There’s all kind of Armageddon scenarios you could come up with. … You wouldn’t have to be a very good fiction writer to come up with some scenarios that would be pretty scary.”

But Rutgers law professor Michael Carrier, a specialist in antitrust and intellectual property law, said the outcome might not be scary at all because the money may not be huge and will be paid only after a player’s career is over.

“My sense is something like making these NILs payments after graduation are not really big game changers,” Carrier said. “They’re just giving the plaintiffs a little piece of the money many people would view them as entitled to. I don’t think it will put college athletics out of existence.”

TIME Basketball

ESPN Suspends Radio Host For His LeBron James-Trolling Billboard

A new billboard was spotted in Akron, Ohio today. Jeremy Powell

Adding insult to injury, it was written in Comic Sans

ESPN suspended a Miami-based radio host after he erected billboards throughout Ohio to troll LeBron James.

Dan Le Batard, host of the Le Batard Show, told Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote that he was merely wreaking “fun anarchy” on James for never thanking Heat fans when he recently announced he was heading back to the Cleveland Cavliers. Le Batard put up billboards — paid for by his dad and co-host Gonzalo Le Batard — showing two championship rings under the text, “You’re Welcome, LeBron. Love, Miami.”

Adding insult to injury, the message was written in Comic Sans.

But, as Le Batard texted to Cote Thursday, “I guess ESPN didn’t find it all quite as funny as I did.”

ESPN released the following the statement: “Dan LeBatard will be off the air for two days, returning Monday. His recent stunt does not reflect ESPN’s standards and brand. Additionally, we were not made aware of his plans in advance.”

Before posting the billboards, Le Batard attempted to buy a similar full-page ad in local Ohio paper The Plain Dealer, which “politely declined” the offer. He also tried The Akron Beacon-Journal, which also said no.

This is a mock-up of the rejected newspaper ad, which leaked on Twitter:

TIME Gay Games

Gay Games 9 to Begin Saturday in Ohio

Gay Games Preview
A man looks over Gay Games t-shirts for sale in the downtown convention center in Cleveland on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Mark Duncan/AP

Cleveland and Akron tourism officials hope the Games will turn the region into a tourist destination for the gay community

(CLEVELAND)— If Cleveland and Akron seem like odd choices to host the international Gay Games, that’s because they are. The eight previous hosts for this quadrennial affair have been gay-friendly cities with identifiable “gayborhoods” — places where those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered feel comfortable living and hanging out.

Cleveland and Akron don’t have gayborhoods and their LGBT communities generally keep a low profile. That will all change Saturday with the opening ceremonies for Gay Games 9 at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. The Games run through Aug. 16.

Gay media outlets pilloried the decision to try and bring the 2014 Games to northeast Ohio, which was competing against the more gay friendly cities of Boston and Washington.

A group no longer associated with Gay Games 9 joined forces with officials from Cleveland, Akron and their respective tourism boards to convince Gay Games officials that northeast Ohio would represent a big win for everyone.

Tourism officials hope the Games will turn the region into a tourist destination for the gay community.

“The biggest reason for the region to host the Gay Games is the kind of legacy it can leave for northeastOhio,” said David Gilbert of Positively Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. “The eyes of the LGBT world and LGBT media will be on Cleveland and will give our community a chance to shine.”

Boosters for the region had plenty of ammunition for selling the region’s venues for the Games’ events. But they also pushed the idea that bringing the Games into the heart of the Rust Belt would provide an opportunity to chip away at barriers that persist between the straight and gay communities through simple interactions and by dispelling stereotypes. Games organizers stress how skilled and competitive many of the competitors are and that many played their respective sports at the college level.

“The Games are about diversity, about changing hearts and minds,” said Tom Nobbe, one of the Gameslead organizers, in an interview with The Associated Press.

About 8,000 people have registered to participate in the Games’ more than 35 events, which range from traditional sports like track and field and basketball to the non-traditional, such as rodeo and ballroom dancing. The participants come from 51 countries and 48 states.

While registration numbers are lower than for past games — Cologne, Germany, had 9,500 registrants in 2010 and Chicago had 12,000 in 2006 — Nobbe said he was thrilled by the number of registrants forGay Games 9. He attributed the lower number to the Akron and Cleveland region being the smallest to ever host the Gay Games. The metropolitan areas for the two cities have a combined population of about 2.7 million. Games officials hope as many as 30,000 people will participate or attend events during the weeklong Games.

As a gay man and Greater Cleveland native, Nobbe called the Games the “event of a lifetime.” He said he would be participating in one of the swimming events.

In keeping with the Gay Games credo of “Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best,” straight people were encouraged to register for events. The Games for the first time is partnering with local, non-gay groups for events such as rowing and the open water swim. The golf tournament at historic Firestone Country Club in Akron likely will draw a number of straight competitors.

While there are no gayborhoods, organizers expect participants to find gay clubs and bars scattered around the area. They also hope visitors are made to feel welcome at businesses throughout the region. In downtown Cleveland, bars and restaurants have placed decals in their windows that say “GG9″ in the hope of inviting visitors inside. The Games are expected to produce tens of millions of dollars in local spending, Positively Cleveland’s Gilbert said.

Nobbe and Games co-organizer Rob Smitherman, a former college basketball player who will be playing for a team during the Games, said they have been heartened by the support they’ve received from the gayand straight communities. They proudly point out how industrial heavyweights like Lubrizol Corp. and Eaton Corp., are sponsors even though the companies have no obvious reasons to be supportive. Dozens of sponsors have helped the Games raise nearly $3 million in cash and in-kind contributions, Nobbe and Smitherman said.

Those contributions, the men said, are more examples of how organizers have been uniformly met with enthusiasm throughout the community. While northeast Ohio may not have a gay friendly reputation, they’ve seen no evidence to the contrary. Nobbe and Smitherman said many of the 2,000 volunteers for the Games are straight.

Yet Nobbe is not naive about the potential for homophobic confrontations. He said he has marched in enough Gay Pride parades to know better, but added that police, the FBI, Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies have worked closely with organizers and that he does not anticipate any trouble.

While he might be overly optimistic, Nobbe would like to think Cleveland has reached a “post-gay” period when sexual orientation no longer matters.

“It’s not an issue any more,” Nobbe said.

Phyllis Harris, executive director of the Cleveland LGBT Center, at the invitation of the Cleveland Police Department, has held “competency training” for most of the officers on the force. She said she found their attentiveness to her message encouraging. And she is excited by the chance her hometown of Cleveland has been given.

“I want us to show up,” Harris said. “This is one of those opportunities that we happen to have and I think we’ll be all right. I would ask skeptics to get involved and put their money where their mouth is.”

TIME Sports

What It’s Like for a Woman to Coach Men’s Professional Basketball

Becky Hammon #25 of the San Antonio Silver Stars shoots a free throw shot during the WNBA game against the Phoenix Mercury at US Airways Center on August 20, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mercury defeated the Silver Stars 87-81. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Becky Hammon #25 of the San Antonio Silver Stars shoots a free throw shot during the WNBA game against the Phoenix Mercury at US Airways Center on August 20, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mercury defeated the Silver Stars 87-81. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Christian Petersen—Getty Images

Advice to Becky Hammon from the first female to coach a professional men's team

In the NBA, there are head coaches, assistant coaches, strength coaches, player-development coaches, conditioning coaches, mind coaches and many others. Until this week, they all had one thing in common: they were men. Why not a female coach? Women have a special way of communicating to players. We can help disseminate the message of the organization’s philosophy to the players, and we can deliver the message of the head coach in a different tone, a different soundtrack. As a female coach in what is perceived as a man’s world, I feel unique, but no different than my colleagues in the way of the expected outcome. I, too, want to win. Many of the guys in college or the NBA have had strong, dominant women in their life, so many of these guys are used to taking advice and direction from women. And in my experience, the players respond to me just as they would to the men with clipboards that I sit next to. I love basketball, and I love to coach. My players have always known that my methods are for their betterment; therefore, the creation of trust and bond that I share with them supersedes my gender.

I recall clearly the day my coaching career began. I met with Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson at a Starbucks in Plano, Texas. We said hello and he greeted me with a hug that was tighter than his normal embrace. “We need to talk,” he said. Those talks became discussions about becoming the first woman to ever coach in a men’s professional basketball league. Donnie’s career had taken a huge leap, as he had just purchased the Development League team the Texas Legends, the affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks.

When Donnie was getting ready to announce that I would be the coach of the Texas Legends, he said to me: “No matter what happens, you’re my coach. We’re going to have a press conference, and we’re going to tell people about the Texas Legends.” People knew who I was, and they knew I had been around basketball for many years. They knew I was successful as a player and a coach in the WNBA, but this coaching position was new. This was historic. I was aware and prepared for people to judge that I’d be a woman coaching men, but my biggest hope was that our actions as a franchise would speak for themselves. As a head coach with my players and staff, I wanted to show people that our hard work, our dedication, our discipline and how we played and cared about each other were credible enough for the big leagues, despite my gender.

My life took another turn when I was blessed with the arrival of my son, TJ, in 1994. He has been one of the most important people in my life, and his support has carried me for the past 20 years. I stepped down from my coaching job with the Legends in 2011 because I felt it was necessary to be there for TJ’s senior year in high school. He deserved to have his mom sitting in the stands during his basketball games, so I traded roles and became the Assistant General Manager of the Texas Legends. Women are great multitaskers, and I wanted to be the best mom I could when raising TJ. Our empathy and passion are not bound by motherhood, but can be carried into sports and business as well. These qualities have served me well both personally and professionally

Becky Hammon will have to approach her new role as the first full-time female NBA coach in her own way. Becky knows the game of basketball and knows what it will take to survive on the path she is preparing to pave. Coach Gregg Popovich isn’t the type of guy who’s looking for media and press clippings; he’s the type of guy who’s looking directly at results. Can she manage working with his guys? Can she be an asset to the coaching staff? What is her basketball IQ, and what type of interpersonal relationship will she be able to forge with the team as an assistant coach? For Coach Popovich to hire Becky speaks to her credibility and his confidence in her. It’s no surprise to me that she won his heart and his mind with her basketball acumen and her understanding of the game, along with the respect he has seen her command from the players.

Once all of the press conferences are over and the interviews slow down, Becky is going to have to be “one” with the guys in the environment they live in. She’s going to have to be concise, know when to talk, know when to stop talking and know how to be a great leader on the bench and in the locker room.

I don’t think Becky set out to be an example for gender equality or a barrier breaker in sports or society. She started playing basketball because it was a game she found she loved, and she has played it at the highest levels. It seems natural for her to come off the court after 16 years and to use the experience and knowledge she has to coach and teach. The fact that she will end up coaching men speaks volumes for her as basketball player and as an individual. She has the ability to cross over and be respected and trusted by athletes, male and female alike. I look forward to getting an opportunity to do what I love, which is teach and coach at the NBA level one day. I will thank Becky Hammon for the door that she has opened with her relationship with the Spurs and Coach Popovich.

Nancy Lieberman is a Hall of Famer, two-time Olympian, three-time All American, WNBA coach and Assistant General Manager for the Texas Legends, in addition to an acclaimed broadcaster, motivational speaker and esteemed writer.

TIME College Sports

Some College Athletes Will Now Get Paid—a Little

Cabrinni Goncalvesof the Maine Black Bears tackles Trevor Siemianof the Northwestern Wildcats during their college football game at Ryan Field on September 21, 2013 in Evanston, Illinois.
Cabrinni Goncalvesof the Maine Black Bears tackles Trevor Siemianof the Northwestern Wildcats during their college football game at Ryan Field on September 21, 2013 in Evanston, Illinois. John Gress—Getty Images

Power conferences gain autonomy to make own rules, which will include cash stipends for athletes

Some colleges are going to pay athletes.

The NCAA voted Thursday to allow 65 teams from the so-called Big 5 power conferences—the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC, plus Notre Dame, a football independent that is now a member of the ACC in other sports—to make their own rules. These conferences will to offer their athletes not only a scholarship, but the full cost of attendance: money for extras like food, clothing, the occasional trip to the movie theater and more. Depending on the school, this could amount to athletes receiving an additional $2,000 to $5,000. With further autonomy, these schools will also ease restrictions on contact between athletes and agents, and be able to do things like pay for post-season travel for the families of athletes and invest more money in athletic health care coverage.

The move in many ways reflects an economic reality. These conferences drive the most interest in college sports: Between 2003 and 2012, for example, annual football revenues for teams now in SEC jumped 91%, to $759.9 million. The college football playoff, which starts this season, and the continuing expansion of lucrative conference television networks—the SEC Network debuts on August 14—will continue to pump more riches into college sports. NCAA leaders are recognizing that in this environment, the long-criticized inequity of college sports—that none of this additional money flows into the pockets of the talent actually doing the core work, the athletes—is no longer tenable.

“It’s important for the student-athletes and their welfare,” Ken Starr, president and chancellor of Baylor University, said of the vote. “There are things that we would like to do, and we need to be empowered to do those things.”

While the vote is historic in nature, college sports critics contend it doesn’t go far enough.

“I hope it’s the first step towards players being able to negotiate their own working conditions,” said Richard Southhall, director of the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. “The crumbs are more nutritious than they used to be, but they’re still crumbs.”

The move falls short of giving athletes in the high-revenue sports full salaries, or allowing them to capture their true worth on the open market. To college leaders, such reform would dredge up the dreaded E-word. Athletes would serve as employees, which administrators have determined is incompatible with education.

“If you’re an athlete, going from $0 to $3,500, mathematically, is infinitely better,” said Andy Schwarz, an economist who has done work on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon anti-trust case, in which the former UCLA hoops star and other athletes are challenging the rights of schools to profit off their name, image and likeness without compensating them. “But qualitatively, it still misses the point entirely.”

A decision in the O’Bannon case, which is pending, and a successful effort by Northwestern football players to form a union could accelerate the destruction of the NCAA’s so-called “amateurism” model. But for other critics of the NCAA’s vote, that would be a disaster. To them, autonomy for Big 5 conferences, and cost of attendance subsidies, already goes too far. It will destroy competitive balance in college sports, as the extra benefits offered by the big schools will allow them to attract even more top talent, leaving schools outside these conferences helpless. “The NCAA cannot fall prey to phony arguments about student welfare when the real goal of some of these so-called reformers is create a plutocracy,” Boise State president Bob Kustra wrote in statement in May, “that serves no useful purpose in American higher education.”

Stipends for athletes, however, won’t destroy college sports. Competitive balance doesn’t really exist in college sports now, as almost all of the top high school players are already going to the top schools. In a 2011 paper entitled “Excuses, Not Reasons: 13 Myths About (Not) Paying College Athletes,” Schwarz studied 10 years worth of recruiting data and found that 99% of the high school football players listed as Top 100 prospects on Rivals.com went to power conference schools and Notre Dame. And despite this trend, football teams like Northern Illinois, and basketball teams like Wichita St., have cracked the top of the national rankings, because, as West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck puts it, “recruiting is an art, not a science.” Plenty of talented players are overlooked by big schools, and will continue to be overlooked by big schools, even though players at top conferences are receiving a few thousands dollars extra in stipends. At lower schools, plenty of players blossom into pros, and will continue to blossom into pros, even though their Big 5 rivals are receiving some cash.

Sure, a few players on the margin may choose to possibly sit on the bench at a big conference school, rather than star at the lower levels, because of the extra benefits. But all talent won’t flow upwards, because of simple supply and demand. Schools offer a finite amount of athletic scholarships; every player who wants to play basketball at Duke can’t go to Duke. So they’ll go to, say, Lehigh. And what can happen? We’ll still have charming upsets. If Lehigh could knock off the hyped stars from Duke during the 2011 NCAA tournament, they could still beat them tomorrow, even if the Duke players receive more money.

“Having a little bit of cash doesn’t spoil the entire amateur status,” Luck said.

TIME Crime

NBA Player Greg Oden Arrested for Allegedly Punching Ex-Girlfriend in the Face

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6
Greg Oden, No. 20 of the Miami Heat, looks on prior to Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Indiana Pacers Ron Elkman—Getty Images

No official charges have been filed yet

Greg Oden, a free agent NBA player, was arrested on Thursday in Indiana on charges of misdemeanor battery after allegedly punching his ex-girlfriend.

“He punched her in the face,” said a witness, who identified herself as the victim’s best friend, according to a police report. The incident occurred at around 3:30 a.m. at a house owned by Oden’s mother.

“Things got out of control and I started to go after the victim,” the report, which has redacted names, says Oden told police. “My relative] and witness tried to hold me back, but as I swung my arms to move them out of the way, then punched the victim in the face. I was wrong and I know what has to happen.”

The victim, 24, and Oden, 26, had dated for about two years, he told police, before breaking up nearly two months ago.

When officers arrived, they found the victim lying down and reportedly bleeding from “lacerations” around her nose and forehead. The report adds that police found blood on the floor and a sofa, as well as dirt on the ground from a flower pot that had been knocked over.

According to the report:

The victim went to an upstairs bedroom and laid across the bed crying and holding her face. EMS responded but the victim refused medical treatment. The witness entered the room stating “there isn’t that much love in the world; you need to tell that he punched you in the face”. The victim advised Officer Harris that she fell but was unable to advise when and where. The victim was very uncooperative. Officer Harris spoke with the relative who stated she was awaken by Gregory Oden and the victim arguing. The relative stated every time the two visit and go out, there is an argument to follow.

No charges have been filed yet against Oden, who was No. 1 draft pick in 2007 and most recently played with the Miami Heat. He was taken to an initial processing center for arrestees.

The NBA has not yet responded to the incident, among the latest in a recent string of pro-athlete arrests. The NFL recently came under fire for suspending Ray Rice, a running back with the Baltimore Ravens, for two games after he allegedly hit his wife to the point of knocking her unconscious—all caught on tape. And Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts was suspended for four games for taking illegal fertility drugs in a bid to help his wife conceive.

TIME Sports

What Sets Becky Hammon Apart From Her Peers

WNBA star Becky Hammon takes questions from the media at the San Antonio Spurs practice facility after being introduced as an assistant coach with the team on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 in San Antonio.
WNBA star Becky Hammon takes questions from the media at the San Antonio Spurs practice facility after being introduced as an assistant coach with the team on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014 in San Antonio. Bahram Mark Sobhani—AP

On the court, the WNBA player didn't force passes into bad situations--and those decision-making skills will do her well off the court as a coach.

As soon as the San Antonio Spurs announced the hiring of WNBA star Becky Hammon as an assistant coach this week—making her the first full time, paid woman to coach in the NBA—I thought back to the first time I interviewed her.

It was the summer of 2004, and Hammon was playing point guard for the New York Liberty, which had been temporarily kicked out of Madison Square Garden by the Republican National Convention. The Garden’s hardwood had been transported to Radio City Music Hall, where the Liberty would face the Detroit Shock.

Fans in Hammon jerseys were ushered to plush red seats by members of The Rockettes. Liberty players danced out of a mock subway car during introductions. A minute into the game, a ball bounced into the orchestra section. In the second half, a Shock player did too. The game was, you might say, riddled with distractions for the players.

“Distraction” is the liquid of the pro sports world, conforming to the shape of any container one can create. A player’s traffic ticket is a distraction. Trade rumors and reporters are distractions. In recent years, a player coming out as gay is haggled over by fans and talking heads as a potential distraction. Essentially, anything other than winning is a distraction. So no sooner did the Spurs announce the Hammon hiring than online forums lit up with discussion of whether Hammon would be a distraction. Here’s the answer: no.

The Spurs—the reigning NBA champs and one of the most stable franchises in pro sports history—will be no more distracted than Hammon was when she was leading fastbreaks down the Radio City proscenium, as the Liberty beat the Shock 78-69. What struck me about Hammon when I interviewed her in the locker room after that game was her nonchalance about the setting, and her startling recall for how plays had unfolded during the game. As I write in The Sports Gene, that kind of recall is one of the hallmarks of true expertise, from basketball and football to chess and piano. And it is part of the reason that Hammon, a six-time All-Star, is one of the best WNBA players of all time. If she could be compared to an NBA star, it would have to be Lakers point guard and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash. Both have such acute spatial awareness and fluent ball handling skills that, rather than forcing passes into bad situations, they can often be found dribbling patiently from one corner of the court to the other, looking for a prime opening. As a result, both tended to make better decisions than the next player. Decision-making is what sets Hammon apart from her peers.

The Spurs have already seen this side of Hammon. They have seen it on the court—Hammon has played for their sister team, the San Antonio Stars, since 2007. And they saw it last year, during what Hammon calls her “internship.” Sensing the end of her career (she will retire from the WNBA at the end of this season), Hammon arranged with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to start sitting in on coaches meetings and film sessions, and to attend some practices and direct drills. So it’s not like the Spurs are making an uninformed decision, and apparently Hammon was an impressive intern. As Popovich put it in his is typical plainspeak: “She knows when to talk, and she knows when to shut up…a lot of people don’t figure that out.”

That’s not to say that Hammon won’t have plenty to learn. In fact, the idea that top players immediately make adept coaches is belied by the paths of stars-turned-coaches like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Jason Kidd. Because the best players have automated many of the game’s skills—that is, they can execute the skills without using the higher conscious or “thinking” parts of the brain, just as you did when you eventually learned to drive a car—they can be among the people worst positioned to explain how certain skills work to a lower-level learner. Simply having been a great player won’t be enough for Hammon; she’ll have to learn to be a great coach. But there is no better mentor than Popovich, one of the best coaches in history, one who has a Master’s degree in physical education and spent the same number of games in the NBA as a player as Hammon: zero.

In 2009, former star player Nancy Lieberman was the head coach of the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League—basically the minor league for the NBA. They made the playoffs in her only season. And now Hammon will kick the door open a bit more for women who want to coach at the highest level. Until recently, women’s opportunities to play or coach in most pro sports were extremely limited. The WNBA was only founded in 1996, after all. But Hammon is part of the first generation of women who have had long careers as professional basketball players. She won’t be a distraction, and by the time the next woman comes to an NBA staff, that word will feel antiquated.

David Epstein is author of the New York Times bestseller The Sports Gene: Inside The Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, and an investigative reporter at ProPublica.

TIME Basketball

Report: Kevin Love Will Play With LeBron James on the Cavs

Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves during a NBA game between the Charlotte Bobcats and the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Time Warner Arena on March 14, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina
Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves during a NBA game between the Charlotte Bobcats and the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Time Warner Arena on March 14, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina Don Kelly—Corbis

The Cavaliers are said to be dealing Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennet to the Timberwolves for Love

Kevin Love is headed to Cleveland, according to reports from Adiran Wojnaroski at Yahoo Sports and Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

The Minnesota Timberwolves will send Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennet and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick, those reporters write. The teams have a “handshake” agreement in which Love will opt out of his 2015 contract with the Timberwolves and sign with the Cavaliers for a five-year, $120 million-plus contract extension, NBA sources told Yahoo.

The deal can’t be completed until Aug. 23 because Wiggins, who was picked first in the 2014 NBA draft, cannot be traded until a month after signing his rookie contract. Neither team can take any legal action if one of the parties pulls out of the deal before that date.

Love will join basketball star LeBron James, who left the Miami Heat earlier this summer to return to his home state in hopes of bringing a championship to Cleveland. Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving will round out the team’s big three.

The trade positions Cleveland as a playoff finals contender in a weak Eastern Conference where the Chicago Bulls will likely be the Cavs’ main competition. Neither Love nor Irving has ever competed in an NBA playoff series.

[Yahoo Sports]

TIME South Africa

Final Arguments Begin in Oscar Pistorius Trial

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius leaves court in Pretoria, South Africa in his ongoing murder trial on July 7, 2014. Jerome Delay—AP

In the final arguments of Oscar Pistorius' sensational trial, prosecutors say the Olympic athlete intentionally shot and murdered girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

(PRETORIA, South Africa) — The chief prosecutor in Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial said Thursday that the double-amputee athlete’s lawyers have floated more than one theory in a dishonest attempt to defend against a murder charge for his killing of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel made the allegation during final arguments in the sensational trial in a Pretoria courthouse, where the fathers of the Olympic runner and Steenkamp, a model and television personality, were in court for the first time since the trial began in early March. They sat at opposite ends of a long bench in the gallery.

Nel said a criminal trial was a “blunt instrument for digging up the truth” but that he was confident of his case. He then said defense lawyers had argued that Pistorius acted in self-defense, fearing an intruder was in the house, but also raised the possibility that the once-celebrated athlete was not criminally responsible, accidentally shooting Steenkamp through a closed toilet door because he was “startled.”

“It’s two defenses that you can never reconcile,” Nel said.

The prosecution has argued that Pistorius intentionally shot Steenkamp before dawn on Feb. 14, 2013 after a quarrel. The defense has previously contended that he fired by mistake, thinking he was about to be attacked by an assailant in the toilet and that Steenkamp was in the bedroom.

In addition to the murder charge, Pistorius faces three separate gun-related charges, one of which stems from his alleged firing of a shot in a crowded restaurant called Tashas in Johannesburg, months before he killed Steenkamp. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

On Thursday, some of the state’s written arguments as well as transcripts of past testimony appeared on screens in the courtroom. One section questioned Pistorius’ defense case:

“Is it putative self-defense? Is it an act of sane automatism? Did he have criminal capacity to act? Or was it all an accident as in Tashas Restaurant where he had the gun in his hand and it purportedly discharged itself?”

Because South Africa has no trial by jury, Judge Thokozile Masipa will decide with the help of two legal assistants if Pistorius committed murder, is guilty of a negligent killing, or if he made a tragic error and should be acquitted. The runner faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder, and also would be sent to prison for years if guilty of murder without premeditation or culpable homicide.

Earlier, Masipa told Nel and chief defense lawyer Barry Roux that they had only until the end of Friday to complete their final arguments in court.

“Unless, of course, you want to work on a Saturday and perhaps Sunday, after church,” she said, smiling.

___

Imray reported from Stellenbosch, South Africa.

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