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August 13, 2014

Who was NCAA's Pied Piper of Hamelin?



Credit Steve Spurrier for concisely summing up the first 100-plus years of the NCAA's existence when a day after the verdict in the landmark O'Bannon vs. NCAA case was announced, he said this:

"I thought O'Bannon was going to win, didn't we? He had a good case. You can't use athletes to make millions of dollars and they get nothing. Wait a minute, that's what we do, isn't it?"

Exploitation of student-athletes was the heart of the O'Bannon case, and as the judge ruled, the NCAA has proven to be skillfully adept at that over the years by refusing to pay athletes for their NIL (names, image, likeness) rights, thereby violating anti-trust law. Instead, the money went into the NCAA's coffers, and judging by the bloated paychecks of many NCAA executives, straight into their pockets.

Sadly, the O'Bannon ruling wasn't the only example of the NCAA looking foolish since the month of August began 13 days ago.

The Associated Press reported Aug. 2, the day after preseason camp started, that USC had reported 22 secondary violations, many of them inconsequential, including "impermissible iced decorations on cookie cakes given to prospects."

Horrors!

Because "Icing-gate" dominated the national headlines, and yet again made the NCAA a laughingstock, most of the other 'violations' went unnoticed. According to the AP, these included 1) USC laid out trophies and jerseys on a table inside the locker room and 2) a prospect attended spring practice and took a picture with a former South Carolina player currently in the NFL.

Horrors!

As always, the most fascinating aspect of the case isn't the violations, rather the rules themselves.

How and why did petty and trifling rules such as these come into existence in the first place? Who was so paranoid and obsessively distrustful to propose a rule in the first place?

Hey, maybe the same people approved the foolhardy two-team rule that tainted the BCS. That would make sense.

Better question: Who was the NCAA's Pied Piper of Hamelin that by hook or by crook convinced a sufficient percentage of institutions to approve these senseless rules supposedly curtailing improper behavior in recruiting?

Did they simply start playing their flute and other schools naively followed them like the doomed children in the tragic medieval fairy tale? Perhaps.

Look up the word 'bureaucracy' in the dictionary (OK, Google it) and you'll likely see the NCAA logo menacingly staring back at you.

By the way, don's look to NCAA President Mark Emmert and other top NCAA executives for answers to our questions. They are too busy counting their money, and laughing all the way to the bank while many Division I football players receive little beyond a scholarship, which pales in comparison to the gobs of money they bring to their respective schools.

Finally acknowledging their hypocrisy - and the mythological 'level playing field' was indeed imaginary - the NCAA mercifully voted Aug. 7 to grant the 'Big 5' conferences autonomy on selected issues related to 'student-athlete welfare' such as full cost-of-attendance stipends, four-year scholarships, medical insurance, staff sizes, recruiting rules and mandatory hours spent on athletics.

It's a start. But the judge's ruling in the O'Bannon case should propel, if not accelerate, the battle for athlete's rights. Essentially, she issued an injunction invalidating NCAA rules prohibiting Division I football and men's basketball players from being compensated for their names and images in television broadcasts and video games.

In doing so, she rejected most of the NCAA's arguments defending the current medieval system in which the NCAA serves as the dominant overlord and athletes are fiefs. In short, she cast aside - hopefully forever - the NCAA's outdated view of amateurism, which consists of a pyramid scheme intended to enrich a select few executives at the top.

Predictably, the NCAA responded to the ruling by vowing to appeal even though most legal analysts predicted victory for the plaintiffs when the trial started. The NCAA actually prevailed in one subset of the case - the organization could implement rules banning athletes from endorsing products.

Some issues, of course, have to be ironed. For example, does Title IX prohibit the judicially required trust funds (maximum of $5,000 per year for each athlete) applying strictly to football and basketball players? Shouldn't all athletes, male and female, share in the proceeds?

Surely, when the times comes for schools to start distributing the trust funds to athletes, and the only ones to get paid are football and basketball players, the lawsuits will fly.

So, we'll likely spend the next decade litigating a whole host of issues in the wake of the O'Bannon ruling. At some point, the U.S. Supreme Court could render a final ruling just as they did in the famous TV case in the early 1980s, which literally opened the floodgates and led to the creation of cable giants such as ESPN.

Emmert and his wealthy cronies at the NCAA desperately prefer to keep the status quo, of course (if you doubt that, national media reports earlier this week said the NCAA has spent a record $240,000 on lobbying as of June 30, far exceeding the $160,000 spent in all of 2013, and has hired outside lobbyists for the first time in 15 years), but the outcry from the O'Bannon ruling, along with shifting societal views, will ultimately force their hand.

However, significant change likely won't happen until Emmert and his selfish, shallow-thinking cohorts at the NCAA level fade away into oblivion, hopefully replaced by a generation of new thinkers ready, willing and able to adjust to the 21st century with innovative ways of looking at things and, most importantly, a different set of priorities beyond making as much money for themselves as possible.

Last week's vote granting autonomy to the 'Big 5' conferences, together with the O'Bannon ruling, are just the first bullets fired in the revolution to better reward deserving athletes and allow them to benefit monetarily from their labors.

Perhaps more time will be devoted to finding ways to truly help student-athletes instead of passing idiotic rules like the 'excessive icing' rule supposedly violated by USC.

Prediction: Big-time college sports in 20 years will look, feel and smell much differently than they do today. Why? Because the system will be fairer and Division I athletes will finally get what they deserve, which is significantly more than what they're getting now.

Hopefully, the NCAA's widespread attitude of "I've got mine, so you can't have yours" vanishes quickly in the aftermath of all these new multi-billion TV deals and conference TV networks.

If so, that's a good thing.

If you have any questions about this feature or wish to discuss it, please visit The Insiders Forum, Gamecock Central's members-only message board for Gamecock fans.

DM


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