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The NCAA Is Playing The Ball In The Wrong Court

by michelle
Published: Last Updated on

Recap: The authors of this article build the case for NCAA reform by looking at the antitrust cases that they have fought in the past, are currently fighting, and will most likely fight in the future. From the case involving former UCLA basketball athlete O’Bannon in 2009 to the current NCAA vs Alston that the Supreme Court is set to hear at the end of this month, the NCAA spends hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees defending their system. Additionally, they spent at least $750,000 lobbying lawmakers in 2019 and it’s likely to be more in 2020. The article concludes by stating that “no one is hoping for the NCAA to listen any longer. NIL rights are being driven by new players – the states and Congress.”

Observations: The amount of money that has been spent on legal battles and lobbying over the past five years has to signal some red flags, even for those who haven’t followed the NCAA closely. While NIL rules are most likely changing this year, it will be interesting to see what other changes come about; especially since Congress is now involved. This article states that “NIL rights are not the true victory. Comprehensive college athletics reform—in the areas of academic integrity, athletes’ medical and health coverage, equity and Title IX compliance, preservation of various sports programs and opportunities, and more—is necessary.“ Will the NCAA ever get to a place of reform where all their stakeholders are happy? Or will the lawsuits continue as long as the NCAA exists?

By Julie Sommer and Andrew Zimbalist

While the welcome return of March Madness reminds us of the popularity of college sport, the NCAA continues to spend hundreds of millions in legal bills and political lobbying, fighting to preserve its exploitative and broken system. Its member schools and conferences have spent millions more in the courts, a sum that is dwarfed by indefensible spending on bloated coaches’ compensation and unnecessarily lavish facilities.

The NCAA profits immensely from the labor of talented, hard-working—and disproportionately Black—college athletes, especially those playing on the courts of the women’s and men’s tournaments that remain the most lucrative property of the NCAA. While these athletes deliver dollars and prestige to their universities and the NCAA, in courts of law, the NCAA has launched a full-court press to deny college athletes’ basic rights to a real education, to their own images and likenesses, and to their health and safety. The NCAA’s ball is in the wrong court.

It is well known that the top Power Five conference schools have been in an arms race with athletic department expenditures, including the highest-paid administrators, astronomical coaching salaries in revenue sports, and excessive spending on extravagant facilities. Less publicized is the NCAA running its own high-level gavel-to-gavel action in legal cases opposing athletes’ rights. The seminal class-action case of Edward O’Bannon, the former UCLA basketball player who filed suit against the NCAA in 2009 for profiting off of his and other college athletes’ likenesses found in EA Sports video games, cost the NCAA a court-ordered $46 million in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs. The case continued to rack up expenses after this judgment, and it is reasonable to assume that the NCAA spent a similar sum on its own outside counsel and associated fees. So O’Bannon likely yielded a total cost above $100 million. This case delivered the first major victory to college athletes in the antitrust challenge to the NCAA rule prohibiting student-athletes from profiting off of the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL). 


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