Ed O’Bannon, great college basketball player, wash out NBA player, trustworthy (?) car salesman, and hoopster patron saint, may be seeing the ranks of his class-action lawsuit against the NCAA increase. According to a ruling handed down yesterday, CURRENT NCAA athletes may be eligible to join O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA, which is attempting to recoup lost revenue for former NCAA players for old, retelevised NCAA games.
O’Bannon has been the face of the lawsuit, perhaps because of his hard luck experience not being very good at basketball post-college. Rather than succumbing to an exploded knee or a heart ailment that could have prevented him from cashing in in the pros, O’Bannon came down with a career-killing case of advanced metriculosohowdoyouplaybasketballagain. This reoriented his view of what he believed he was owed as a former college athlete. Seeing a repeat of the ’95 Bruins epic Tournament run while half drunk in the basement of Jim Harrick’s house, perhaps coming in at Tyus Edney’s closing seconds miracle full court drive to beat Mizzou, made O’Bannon think: why aren’t I getting a royalty check right now?
At any rate, if Rick Springfield gets to make eight and a half cents every time Cool Sounds 100.9 wants to pump up their listenership for Friday afternoon by playing “Jesse’s Girl,” why shouldn’t O’Bannon get a cut of the revenues from the replay of his past performances? With theory in mind, O’Bannon filed a class action lawsuit in 2009 on behalf of all former NCAA athletes. Now however, a judge has ruled that the class may potentially increase not only to include current NCAA athletes, but also live broadcasts of games. This has been other only action so far, but clearly the implications could be enormou$$$.
I like this development, all Ed O’Bannon fun-having aside, because it gets to what I think is the key moral problem with the current regime of compensation with the NCAA: that players don’t own their own likenesses. This discussion has been ongoing and the group of people clamoring for college athletes to be paid has been getting louder and more numerous, at least in the media I consume. This is especially true in the immediate aftermath of every shame boner non-backpack story that bubbles up from the insane NCAA amateurism compliance rules. While I understand the inclination to believe college athletes should be paid, I think the entire issue is a non-starter because of Title IX. If universities have to spend the same amount of money on men’s and women’s sports, then directly paying players makes no sense; its not financially feasible from a policy perspective. Plus, the introduction of paid players really would spell the end to non-football or basketball men’s college teams, which would be a really stupid outcome.
Instead of looking to the universities to compensate their athletes (beyond scholarships and coddling and free rides around campus in electric golf carts), it makes far more sense to simply allow athletes control over the use of their own likenesses for commercial purposes. Is there a local burger joint that would kick $500 to the local football star to have him say “Ricky’s Monster Bull Burger satisfies my post game hunger!”? Is there a Pilates studio that would pay the local basketball star $350 to attempt a demonstration on their new client day (He’s soooo tall!)? Or for the big boys, will Nike pay the national hero quarterback $50,000 to walk around campus in a Swoosh t-shirt? The answer to all of these questions is yes. And more to the point, the answer is yes AND this type of compensation has nothing to do with Title IX and overall athletic expenditures. (Full disclosure: I think Title IX is mostly good and worth having.) Plus it allows athletes to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, so if they think they have some huge, unfairly stunted earning potential they’re free to test the market for their charisma. The NCAA could also get to make more rules to try and ensure that the athletes are actually rendering and service, rather than just being paid lump sums by boosters. We’d get to have new scandals about whether or not the Kentucky Wildcats front court actually was handing out cotton candy at that bowling alley for $1,000.
Also, there is this issue of TV revenue. That’s a bigger and more complicated issue. But its going to court courtesy of O’Bannon– next action in the case will be in June– so we’ll have to see on that.