TIME College Sports

Chicago Judge Rejects $75 Million NCAA Settlement

"The court encourages the parties to continue their settlement discussions"

A Chicago judge on Wednesday rejected a $75 million settlement with the NCAA on player concussions, saying the funds allocated as part of the deal would potentially fall short and urging both parties to resume negotiations.

“The court encourages the parties to continue their settlement discussions … to address these concerns,” U.S. District Judge John Lee wrote in his 21-page opinion, the Associated Press reported.

Under the settlement proposal, $70 million would be allocated by the NCAA for concussion testing, with an additional $5 million for additional research.

Lee had expressed concern in an October hearing that the proposal covered non-contact sportspersons as well, and noted on Wednesday that head injuries for athletes like baseball and water polo players are not out of the realm of possibility. Their coverage under the settlement, as well as several other factors, made him unsure that the $70 million amount would be enough.

[AP]

TIME College Sports

Accuser’s Attorney: Jameis Winston Violated Confidentiality Instructions

Florida Florida St Football
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up prior to an NCAA college football game against Florida inTallahassee, Fla. on Nov. 29, 2014. John Raoux—AP

Winston's statement marked the first time he publicly gave his side of the story pertaining to the sexual assault allegations

The attorney for the woman who accused Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her in 2012 alleges that Winston and his attorney have violated confidentiality instructions given by retired Florida State Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Harding.

Winston’s two-day hearing, which was heard by Harding, ended on Wednesday. The quarterback reportedly did not testify, but he did read a five-page statement denying the allegations against him. The statement was obtained by both ESPN and USA TODAY.

The woman’s attorney, John Clune, issued a statement on Thursday in response:

“It apparently took about one hour for Mr. Winston and his lawyer to violate Justice Harding’s confidentiality instructions by emailing out one of the exhibits to the media. Jameis Winston’s crude new recollection of events is as disgusting as it is implausible. He just keeps digging himself deeper. For now we will trust in the strength of our client’s repeated and consistent interviews. The time for Winston, [Chris] Casher, and [Ronald] Darby to fully explain this new story will come.”

Winston had the right to not answer any questions at the hearing. His teammates, Casher and Darby, reportedly refused to testify on Tuesday.

Winston’s statement marked the first time he publicly gave his side of the story pertaining to the sexual assault allegations. He had previously denied the allegations through his attorney.

The purpose of the two-day hearing was to determine if Winston violated up to four school student conduct codes.

Winston was accused of sexual assault in December 2012. In November 2013, the state’s attorney announced that it was investigating the accusation. The investigation was completed a month later, and no charges were filed. Authorities have been criticized for being slow to act on the woman’s claim. In October, a FOX Sports report alleged that university administrators and Tallahassee police took steps to “hide and then hinder” an investigation.

After the hearing, Winston’s lawyer, David Cornwell​, told ESPN there was no evidence in the hearing to suggest the quarterback did anything wrong, while Clune said he expects Winston to be found responsible for sexually assaulting his client.

Harding has up to 10 class or exam days to submit his decision, meaning a decision does not need to be made until January.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME College football

Michigan Fires Brady Hoke After 4 Seasons as Wolverines Head Coach

Michigan v Northwestern
Head coach Brady Hoke of the Michigan Wolverines watches his team warm up before a game against the Northwestern Wildcats on November 8, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. David Banks—Getty Images

A defensive-minded coach, Hoke failed to build a potent offense

College football’s all-time winningest program is in need of a new coach. Michigan fired Brady Hoke on Tuesday after four seasons in Ann Arbor. Hoke’s final season at Michigan included losses to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State as the Wolverines finished 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten) and fell short of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009 and third time since 1974. The firing was first reported by Sam Webb and FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman. Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the news.

Hoke arrived at Michigan in 2011 after a two-year stint at San Diego State, where his Aztecs went 13-12, including 9-4 in his final season. San Diego State was 2-10 the year before Hoke arrived and hadn’t won nine games since 1971. Then Hoke’s debut Michigan team went 11-2, making him the only Wolverines coach since Fielding Yost to win at least 10 games in his first year at the helm. Michigan capped that campaign with a 23-20 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

But Hoke’s first season in Ann Arbor also proved to be his best. His program dropped to 8-5 in 2012, 7-6 in ’13 and 5-7 this fall. The Wolverines fell to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl after the ’12 season and lost to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in December ’13. They also lost to rival Ohio State three straight times. Hoke went 12-12 in Big Ten play during his final three seasons.

“I met with coach Hoke today and informed him of my decision to make a change in the leadership of our football program,” Hackett said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision given the level of respect that I have for Brady. He has done a great job of molding these young men, making them accountable to their teammates, focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community. I wanted to make sure that Brady received adequate time to exhibit the results that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce those results and unfortunately they are not there. In the end, I feel that moving in a different direction is the right decision. I wish Brady and his family all the best in the future.”

“I feel very fortunate to have been an assistant and head coach at the University of Michigan,” Hoke said in a statement. “I will always support the university and this football program.”

A defensive-minded coach, Hoke failed to build a potent offense. This season the Wolverines finished 13th in the Big Ten in total offense (333.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (20.9 points per game). Hoke’s attack never flourished under quarterback Devin Gardner, who threw 31 touchdowns to 26 interceptions in two seasons as Michigan’s starter.

Hoke’s controversial handling of backup quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion in a 30-14 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 27 further prompted calls for his ouster. Hoke’s staff reinserted Morris into the game after one play, even though he exhibited concussion-like symptoms.

The biggest issue throughout Hoke’s tenure may have been an inability to develop talent. The coach made a strong first impression in his debut season with a roster full of players recruited by his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez. Michigan’s on-field product never met the hype of Hoke’s top-10 recruiting classes in 2012 and ‘13.

A proven ability to cultivate talent should be a priority for the Wolverines in their next coach, regardless of whether he is a Michigan Man. Hoke spent eight seasons (1995-2002) as a Michigan assistant, the last as associate head coach and defensive line coach. Yet hiring an outsider (Rodriguez) didn’t work, either.

SI.com’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans reported last month that Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Minnesota’s Jerry Kill and ex-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano could all be candidates to replace Hoke. Former athletic director Dave Brandon resigned on Oct. 31, so interim AD Hackett will lead the search.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME College football

University of Alabama-Birmingham Officially Shuts Down Football Program

UAB Blazers v Arkansas Razorbacks
Head Coach Bill Clark of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers is seen with his team during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on October 25, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Wesley Hitt—Getty Images

The "financial realities" it faces from an administrative standpoint made the football program unsustainable

The University of Alabama at Birmingham announced Tuesday that it has shut down its football program. Sports Illustrated’s Thayer Evans reported on Sunday that the announcement was expected some time this week.

In the press release announcing the decision, President Ray L. Watts said the “financial realities” it faces from an administrative standpoint made the football program unsustainable. The bowling and rifle programs will also be dropped in the 2014-15 academic year.

“The fiscal realities we face — both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint — are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the Athletic Department and UAB,” Watts said. “As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the Athletic Department, football is simply not sustainable.”

Watts also announced that athletic director Brian Mackin has been reassigned from his position, at Mackin’s request. Mackin will fill the role of “the newly created position of special assistant for Athletics,” according to the release. Mackin will “assist student-athletes and coaches affected by the discontinuation of programs.” Mackin had been UAB’s athletic director since 2007.

“While Brian has been leading the strategic review process for the Athletic Department, working closely with our consultants to inform and guide their analysis, he does not wish to lead our newly constituted Athletic Department,” Watts said. “I respect his decision and thank him for his 12 years of service. In his new role, Brian has a great opportunity to make this transition easier for the affected athletes and coaches as they work to make the best decisions for their futures.”

UAB finished this season 6-6 under first-year coach Bill Clark. Clark took over a program already lacking financial support and one that hadn’t had a winning season since 2004.

UAB football players were told about the decision in a meeting with Watts on Tuesday.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

MONEY College

Would Your Tuition Bills Go Up If College Athletes Got Paid?

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Drake Johnson (#20) of the Michigan scores against Indiana on November 1 , 2014 in Ann Arbor. Leon Halip—Getty Images

As the college football season heats up, the action far from the field could eventually raise the costs of fielding teams.

Wins by college athletes in courtrooms and boardrooms could end up in losses for their non-athlete classmates.

High-profile legal cases and NCAA policy changes are likely to boost the cost of fielding big-time athletics programs. And students—even those who never attend a single college basketball or football game—may have to foot the bill, higher-education finance experts say.

How the Game Is Changing

The most sweeping changes to college sports could come from an antitrust suit against the NCAA pending in New Jersey, in which attorney Jeffrey Kessler contends that college athletes should be paid as much as the market dictates—a salary, essentially. A win for Kessler, who filed the suit on behalf of former Clemson football player Martin Jenkins, likely would spark bidding wars among universities for top recruits by eliminating limits on such payments.

The case is likely to go to trial next fall.

“I do believe that if the Kessler case wins, that could break the bank for the NCAA as we know it today,” says William Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland system and co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “This would become like a mini NFL draft. It would become a free market.”

Other factors also promise to change the rules of the game.

A federal judge in August ruled in favor of former college athletes, led by UCLA star basketball player Ed O’Bannon, in an antitrust suit against the NCAA that could lead to back payments for as many as 100,000 former athletes and additional scholarship money for future ones.

The ruling came less than five months after the National Labor Relations Board concluded Northwestern University football players were, essentially, university employees, and could unionize.

Some schools have already hinted they would pay athletes thousands of dollars more per year after NCAA officials—independent of any lawsuits—said they might allow universities to cover athletes’ entire cost of attendance.

Who Will Foot a Bigger Bill?

Only a handful of NCAA Division I schools have self-sustaining athletics programs—just 20 of the nearly 130 schools in the top-flight Football Bowl Subdivision, for example—so most universities subsidize those departments, even in a pre-Kessler, pre-O’Bannon world. At public institutions in particular, part of that subsidy is drawn from student fees.

According to the Knight Commission, growth in athletics funding at Division I schools outpaced academic spending from 2005 to 2012. Students at some schools pay $1,000 in athletics fees alone.

Changes to how student-athletes are paid could lead some schools, stuck with nowhere else to turn, to raise other students’ fees. Universities and colleges could also scale back their athletics programs to cut costs. That “would be the rational approach,” Kirwan said. “But when it comes to college athletics, rationality doesn’t often prevail,” he said. “There are so many societal pressures.”

Research shows that some students don’t even know their fees are already paying for athletics. At Ohio University, for instance, 41% of revenue from the general fee of $531 per quarter for full-time students in 2010 went to intercollegiate athletics, but 54% of students didn’t know it, according to a survey by the nonprofit Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

Dividing the $765 per year they paid for athletics through the fee by the number of games the average Ohio University student attended, the center calculated that students were paying the equivalent of more than $130 per athletic event they actually watched in person.

Eighty-one percent said they opposed raising the amount of their fees that went to the athletics program, or wanted it reduced.

If the Kessler lawsuit succeeds, “The institutions that rely primarily on student fees are going to have to make a decision about whether they’re going to try to keep up,” says Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission. “When you have schools with $5 million for their entire athletic budget trying to compete with schools that have $5 million coaches, it’s going to strain at some point.”

The Pressure to Stay in the Game

Even some schools in the “Big 5” conferences—the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12—where football and basketball bring in big bucks will have trouble maintaining their programs if bidding for athletes takes off, experts said. Schools on the fringes of big-time sports success, such as UC Berkeley, Rutgers, Northwestern, and Indiana, would have tough decisions to make about whether to pass on costs to students, says Murray Sperber, a UC Berkeley professor who has written several books about the role of college sports.

The most likely outcome, Sperber says, would be for at least some of those universities to drop out of the big-time sports world by eliminating athletics scholarships or otherwise scaling back sports programs rather than risking protests by paying athletes and charging students more. But some colleges in mid-tier conferences will probably choose to stay in the bidding game, he says.

“You think of it as a big poker game where the stakes keep going up,” Sperber says. “The students in trouble potentially are those at schools beyond the Big 5, because they’ll have to decide whether to stay in the poker game.”

No Price Tag on School Spirit

Students at some big-time Division I schools said athletic success is important not just for the campus but also for the community. The University of Kentucky basketball program, for example, is part of the school’s and the state’s identity, says Jacob Ingram, president of that university’s student body.

“One of the things the state of Kentucky identifies with most is the Big Blue Nation,” says Ingram, a senior from Nicholasville, Kentucky. “What a great way to leverage our brand and share the rest of what the university has to offer.”

At Rutgers, which is in its first year in the Big Ten, the athletics department has taken on new importance with its climb into the Big 5 ranks. Few students seem to mind paying for that prominence, says senior Brian Link, and even fewer would want to see the school to roll back the affiliation.

“Given the state of where our athletic program is, I think if we have a de-emphasis on athletics a lot of people wouldn’t be too happy,” says Link, from Sayreville, N.J. “That’s where a lot of our school pride comes from—our athletic program. A lot of people in New Jersey root for Rutgers because there aren’t other big-time programs here.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME College football

Army Football Lured Recruits With Alcohol and Women

The Cadets of West Point march on to the field before a game between the Army Black Nights and the Navy Midshipmen on Dec. 14, 2013.
The Cadets of West Point march on to the field before a game between the Army Black Nights and the Navy Midshipmen on Dec. 14, 2013. Hunter Martin—Getty Images

The school acknowledged underage drinking among team members and recruits and “other questionable behavior”

The Army football team lured high school recruits this year with alcohol, cash from boosters and a dinner date with woman cadets, according to a newspaper report. West Point acknowledged misconduct.

The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported that 20 cadets were disciplined and two officers and two coaches reprimanded, but the newspaper reported that punishment stopped short of dismissal or court-martial for the officers.

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the West Point superintendent, said in a statement that the academy reported infractions to the NCAA, which imposed no penalties beyond the school’s. The statement acknowledged underage drinking among team members…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME College Sports

North Carolina Has a Real College Sports Scandal on its Hands

A report finds that Tarheel athletes took sham classes to stay eligible. Can any school be trusted?

Georgia running back Todd Gurley allegedly signs autographs for money, and is suspended indefinitely. Reggie Bush receives “improper” benefits from an agent while at USC: his 2005 Heisman trophy is vacated, and the NCAA bans USC from postseason play for two years. Ohio State players sell memorabilia, and they get suspended–while the Buckeyes are hit with a one-year bowl ban.

The media and others have all labeled these events “scandals.” But really, it’s not all that scandalous to receive money from a third party who wants to give it to you. Only in college sports, where schools have placed restrictions on an athlete’s ability to profit from his or her skills, are such actions scandals.

Now, however, we have a real one.

For years, the NCAA has propagated the idea of the “student-athlete” who represents his school on the field, while receiving a top-notch education in the classroom. If schools are still going to require that athletes remain students in good-standing — and there’s no inkling that this rule will change — academic fraud makes this standard a sham. Some administrators at the University of North Carolina, a proud school with a proud alumni and fan base, have sponsored one the most egregious cases of academic fraud in college sports history.

According to a report by attorney Kenneth Wainstein, a former 19-year justice department official and Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush, between 1993 and 2011 over 3,100 North Carolina students enrolled in “paper” classes in the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies. These courses required no classroom time, little work, and produced inflated grades. Between 1999 and 2011, athletes took approximately 1,871 paper classes, almost half the total; football and men’s basketball players took nearly a quarter of these sham classes.

The report says a student services manager in the department, Debby Crowder, managed many of these “independent studies” classes; Crowder registered the students for classes, assigned them paper topics and then graded their work, even though she was not a faculty member. These papers almost always got A’s or B’s, even if they were shoddy or largely put together by a tutor. The chair of the department, Dr. Julius Nyang’oro, aided Crowder in developing this “shadow curriculum.”

Certain academic counselors in UNC’s Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes knew about the sham classes, and steered athletes into them so they could remain eligible to play. The report names counselors for the football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball teams who knew of this shadow curriculum. “What was most disappointing to me was that a group of academic counselors for student-athletes took advantage of deficient classes largely just to boost a player’s GPA, without regard to whether those kids were getting a real education,” says Wainstein, now chair of the white collar defense and investigations group at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

The University appointed Wainstein’s law firm to investigate the fraud case earlier this year. “That something like this took place within one of the finest universities in the nation, it’s hard to fathom how it happened,” says Wainstein.

One popular offering was Swahili classes; students could satisfy their foreign language requirement by writing a paper about Swahili culture in English. Twelve of the 18 students enrolled in these classes were athletes. Crowder’s retirement in 2009 sparked a sort of panic among the football counselors. One wrote an email to the football operations coordinator, imploring that players get their work in so Crowder could grade it before she left: “Ms. Crowder is retiring at the end of July … if the guys papers are not in … I would expect D’s or C’s at best. Most need better than that … ALL WORK FROM THE AFAM DEPT. MUST BE DONE AND TURNED IN ON THE LAST DAY OF CLASS.”

In November 2009, two counselors led a meeting with the football coaching staff, including then-head coach Butch Davis. They showed the coaches a slide, warning them that these paper classes NO LONGER EXIST. “What was part of the solution in the past?” read the slide. “We put them in classes that met degree requirement in which they didn’t go to class, they didn’t take notes, have to stay awake, they didn’t have to meet with professors, they didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material.” The counselors then showed two more slides comparing the GPA of eight football players in the paper classes with their GPA in other classes. The average paper-class GPA was 3.61, their GPA in other classes was 1.917.

This case speaks to the challenge of “reforming” college sports. Unless college athletes become paid employees who don’t have to go to school — some academics have proposed this solution, arguing it’s a more honest system — change must come from within the schools themselves. The NCAA can’t have a cop on every campus, poring over athlete transcripts, hopping in and out of classes to make sure they’re legit.

Institutions should be honest with themselves. Are these “student-athletes” we parade in front of packed stadiums and arenas academically eligible in name only? Are they getting a real education? We have to trust the adults in the room, running what are supposed to be enviable institutions, places of “higher learning.” If we can’t trust the “teachers,” we can’t fix college sports.

 

 

 

 

TIME College Sports

Yet Another Heisman Hopeful Runs Afoul of the NCAA’s Unfair System

Vanderbilt v Georgia
Georgia running back Todd Gurley (right) stiff-arms Torren McGaster of Vanderbilt on October 4, 2014 in Athens, Georgia. Mike Zarrilli—Getty Images

The University of Georgia's Todd Gurley has been suspended after reportedly being accused of accepting money for autographs. What exactly did he do wrong here?

Another year, another Heisman contender’s season interrupted by stupidity.

In 2013, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel–then the defending Heisman trophy winner–became embroiled in a cash-for-autographs controversy. The National Collegiate Athletics Association and Texas A&M said “there was no evidence” that Manziel “received money in exchange for autographs,” but Manziel was still suspended, for the first half of A&M’s opener, for an “inadvertent violation regarding the signing of certain autographs.”

The Johnny Football contretemps was a flash point in the longstanding debate about whether college athletes deserve a fairer share of the expanding revenues flowing into college sports. Love him or hate him, why shouldn’t a player who was bringing in millions for Texas A&M be able to receive autograph money if someone wanted to give it to him? What Manziel was allegedly doing was hardly illegal, except in the weird world of college sports.

Turns out, Manziel didn’t get railroaded. After sitting out that first half, he had every opportunity to compete again for the Heisman (though he lost out to Florida State’s Jameis Winston, even after an excellent 2013 season). Looks like University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley won’t be as lucky. Georgia has suspended Gurley indefinitely; SI.com reported that “a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in Athens, Ga., one day this spring. The person claimed to have a photo and video of Gurley signing the items, but neither the photo nor the video showed money changing hands.”

(MORE: TIME Cover – It’s Time To Pay College Athletes)

Gurley is a Heisman hopeful. Through Georgia’s first five games, the junior had rushed for 773 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry. Georgia is ranked 13th in the AP college football poll: the Bulldogs play at Missouri, ranked 23rd, tomorrow. Not only is Gurley a Heisman candidate, but the Bulldogs still have national championships hopes. So Gurley’s success, and the possible once-in-a-lifetime success of his teammates, are now in jeopardy because he may have received $400. Georgia’s football team generates $77.6 million in revenues, and $51.3 million in profit, according to federal data.

The whole system angers Chris Burnette, who finished his career as a Georgia offensive lineman last season and is now working as a financial planner in Atlanta while finishing his MBA. He vented his frustration on Twitter last night:

Burnette, a vocal supporter of compensation for athletes during his Georgia playing days, sounded exasperated when reached by phone. He says he’s not angry at Georgia, and has no firsthand knowledge of any violations Gurley may or may not have committed. “It’s just so frustrating,” says Burnette. “If a student creates an app, no one is telling him he can’t do something because he’s paid for his talents. For these rules to just apply to athletes, it’s almost un-American, really.” Burnette calls Gurley a “stand-up” guy who would “never do anything malicious.”

“I mean, something has to change,” Burnette said.

Luckily, momentum is shifting towards a fairer system. And cases like those of Gurley and Manziel—stars under fire for breaking rules that defy common fairness—can only help speed things up. Everyone involved deserves better.

(MORE: The Long And Winding Road To Paying College Players)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIME College Sports

The Long and Winding Road to Paying College Players

The man who helped win free agency for NFL and NBA players is seeking the same for college athletes

Over the past few months, the movement to pay college players has gained unprecedented momentum. In August, a federal judge ruled that college football and basketball players can earn a share of licensing revenues from the use of their name, image, and likeness. (The NCAA has since appealed the ruling.) An athlete can access these funds, which will be placed in a trust, when he or she has graduated or left the school. Schools can cap the pay, but the minimum cap is $5,000 per year.

This verdict in the so-called “O’Bannon” case – a former UCLA hoops star filed a lawsuit in 2009 after realizing he wasn’t being compensated for his likeness being used in a college basketball video game – came a few days after the NCAA voted to let schools in the Big 5 power conferences – the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC – have autonomy to write their own rules. These schools are prepared to give all their athletes a stipend that covers the full cost of attendance, which amounts to anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 above the value of their athletic scholarships.

In March, a regional director for the National Labor Relations Board said that football players from Northwestern University could form a union, since these students act as employees of the school. Northwestern appealed the decision; the NLRB’s national office has yet to rule on the appeal. One just-released paper, to be published in the Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal, argues that the players should win.

(MORE: TIME Cover Story — It’s Time To Pay College Athletes)

However, an even bigger threat to the amateur model looms ahead: the lawyer who helped win free agency for NFL and NBA players is seeking the same open market for college athletes. Jeffrey Kessler, a partner at the Winston & Strawn law firm, filed an anti-trust lawsuit in March that could fundamentally alter college sports. The O’Bannon suit was limited to intellectual property rights: could athletes profit from their names, images, and likeness?

“We’re aiming to enjoin the restrictions placed on Division 1 basketball and major college football players from being compensated for their services, given the huge amount of revenue generated from these sports,” says Kessler, one of the top sports labor attorneys in the country. “What will be decided is whether it’s legal to have a rule that schools cannot compensate athletes at all.”

Kessler’s case won’t go to trial until fall of 2015, at the earliest. If he prevails, the courts may force the NCAA to adopt a true pay-for-play system, which the organization has long dreaded. The mechanics of paying players — do you just pay the football and men’s basketball players, and no one else? Should there be any limits? — are daunting. But the O’Bannon ruling sets some strong precedent for Kessler. The judge in that case, Claudia Wilken, may not have torpedoed the college sports model with her ruling. But she seems to invite someone else to do so.

Her opinion condemns the NCAA, and knocks down some of the most common justifications for limiting compensation for athletes to the value of the scholarship. “The evidence … demonstrates that student-athletes are harmed by the price-fixing agreement among FBS football and Division 1 basketball schools,” Wilken writes.

“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,” Wilken writes in another section.

(MORE: College Athletes Need To Unionize, Now)

There’s nothing amateur about college sports. Conferences own their own television networks. Schools switched conferences to capture more revenues. Coaches salaries have skyrocketed: Newsday just reported that the average compensation for coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision – the top tier of college football schools – is $1.75 million per year. That number has spiked nearly 75% over the past seven years. Athletes deserve their fair share.

Kessler picked the right time to mount a challenge. “There’s a growing recognition from the courts, the public, the fans, and even the schools that the current system is fundamentally unfair,” says Kessler. “We think change is coming.”

 

MONEY

How College Football Sacked the NBA and MLB

Houston football fans singing the National Anthem
Dave Einsel—AP

With the college football season upon us, it's time to take stock of just how valuable this "amateur" sport has become.

Want to know how rabid fans have become for college football?

Well, the season kicks off in earnest tonight when the South Carolina Gamecocks (ranked 9th in the country) take on the Texas A&M Aggies (ranked 21st).

The game will be played in Columbia, South Carolina, in front of 80,000 screaming fans — an amazing feat given that Columbia has a population of just 133,000. The Aggies, for their part, play in Kyle Field, which in 2015 will be able to hold almost every single College Station, Texas, resident.

Last year, the Gamecocks opened with a game against the University of North Carolina, and 3.7 million people across the country tuned in. That may not sound that impressive, but consider that Columbia is just the 77th largest television market in the U.S., behind cities like Omaha and Toledo.

There’s no doubt about it. Americans love football.

More people watched the NFL Sunday Night pregame show last year than watched the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. In fact, professional football games comprised all but four of the 50 most-watched sporting events of 2013. The National Football League is the most popular spectator sport in America.

What’s No. 2? Not the NBA, not Major League Baseball—but college football. And with college football introducing a new-fangled playoff system this year, expect America’s infatuation to only grow.

Here are a few measures of its influence.

Ratings

The 2013 NBA finals featured perhaps the most popular athlete in the world, Lebron James, as his super team battled against the San Antonio Spurs for seven unforgettable games. An average of almost 18 million viewers saw James secure his second NBA title. A few months later, 15 million baseball fans saw the Red Sox win their third championship since 2004.

How many viewers watched Florida State beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS title game? Twenty-six million, per Nielsen ratings.

This isn’t a one-off event. On average, 2.6 million people watched NCAA regular season football games last year, according to Nielsen. Take Saturday, October 5, 2013. Both the University of Georgia and Tennessee were enduring less than stellar seasons. Nevertheless, 5.6 million people tuned in to see the two Southeastern Conference schools play each another on CBS.

Viewer demand is only likely to increase. Starting this year, college football will institute a four-team playoff to decide the national champion, and rejiggered rules allow the biggest football programs more control over their finances. According to USA Today, these developments will lead to the biggest schools earning 71.5% of the $470 million annual television revenue for the playoff.

Baseball and basketball simply don’t attract as many eyeballs. About 700,000 people watched an MLB regular season game on television in 2013, and 1.4 million watched a non-playoff NBA game in the 2012-13 season. (All are based on nationally televised games.)

The total attendance for 835 NCAA Division I football games was a little more than 38 million, with a per-game attendance of 46,000. The NBA, which has almost 400 more total games in its season, drew 21 million people, while the MLB attracted 30,500 per game. (Major League Baseball has almost three times as many games and brought in a total of 74 million fans.)

Reach

Part of college football’s popularity might be its reach. While the NBA and MLB have 30 teams collected mostly around large metropolitan areas, college football programs exist where there are colleges – which is everywhere. Consider that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco have 15 professional baseball and basketball teams. That’s a quarter of all the teams in only four cities.

Now look at NCAA football. The top five teams play in Tallahassee, Tuscaloosa, Eugene, Norman, and Columbus. While it’s true that a number of the West Coast schools play in big cities (UCLA, Stanford, and the University of Washington), most of the big-time schools are the only game in town. If you live in Boise, Idaho, do you really care about anything else the way you care about Boise State Broncos football?

Riches

There is something a bit unsettling about college football’s popularity, and corresponding affluence. A college football coach is the highest paid public employee in 27 states – including South Carolina and Texas. Alabama’s Nick Saban made more than $5.5 million last year, despite the fact that his and every other team’s players weren’t paid anything. (Many were given athletic scholarships, but those can be taken away if a “student-athlete” becomes injured. Just for some perspective: the University of Texas’s football program earned $82 million in profit last year.)

Plus, football is a dangerous game, and it’s an open question whether an institution of higher learning should even be in the business of promoting a sport that causes severe head trauma. (Google: Owen Thomas.)

College football, though, is inexorably linked to American history. The first intercollegiate game took place four years after the end of the Civil War, and the college game itself was saved by then President Teddy Roosevelt.

Otherwise normal, hard-working Americans revert to 20-year-old fanatics every fall Saturday afternoon and cheer on their alma maters. Tonight’s game in Columbia is just another page in the never-ending story of America’s love with her second-favorite sport.

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