LEXINGTON, Ky. — Greed always gets them in the end. That’s the way it works. Latest example: The NCAA. The issue: Student-athlete compensation. The arbiter: The Supreme Court, which dealt those who run collegiate athletics a definitive 9-0 defeat on Monday. In sports lingo, that’s known as a rout.
It was only a matter of time, of course. It stood to reason that considering the billions of dollars that college athletics generates that one day those who actually generate the revenue, the players, would stop and say, “Hey, what about us? Where’s our cut?” as others agreed. That day is officially here. The Supreme Court said so.
True, in NCAA vs. Alston, the Supreme Court ruled on the narrow issue of whether athletes can receive education-related benefits. The NCAA argued providing those benefits was above and beyond what regular students receive and would create an uneven playing field among competing schools. The athletes argued the NCAA’s standing should not stand. Lower courts agreed with the athletes. The NCAA appealed and lost. Monday, it lost again.
The details of the ruling implied the NCAA was not just on the wrong side of this issue, but of bigger issues, as well. “The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America,” wrote justice Brett Kavanaugh in his concurring opinion.
Kavanaugh added, “The bottom line is that the NCAA and its members are suppressing the pay of student-athletes who collectively generate billions of dollars in revenues for colleges every year. Those enormous sums of money flow to seemingly everyone except the student-athletes.”
In its chronic disconnect from reality, the NCAA saw this as some kind of win, focusing on the “education-related” part of the ruling, insisting the court “reaffirms the NCAA’s authority to adopt reasonable rules.” Not that we should have expected anything else from Mark Emmert, the NCAA president with the $2.75 million salary, whose legal strategy is rooted in arrogance and delay. Just Tuesday we learned the body is delaying yet again another vote on possible name, image and likeness rules.
Actually, it was justice Neil Gorsuch who got to the heart of the matter. “Those who run this enterprise profit in a different way than the student-athletes whose activities they oversee,” Gorsuch wrote in his opinion.
Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari makes $9 million a year. Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops makes $4.75 million. Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart’s base salary is $925,000 per year. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the SEC announced a per-school payout of $45.5 million in February. Three months later, the conference announced it would pay $23 million per school to help with the financial effects of the pandemic.
Somehow, it’s never enough. Ticket prices keep rising. Pleas for donations are never-ending. The College Football Playoff is about to be expanded from four teams to 12, not so much for the sake of giving more schools a chance at the championship, but (also) for the sake of making more money. There are bills to pay.
Player compensation is coming. That train is too far down the track. The only question is when. Several states’ NIL laws are to take affect in July. Meanwhile, schools have started announcing their own NIL plans — UK’s is called “The Kentucky Road” — in hopes of trying to maintain some sort of control over the situation. Sports law attorney Michael McCann points out that many are “more restrictive than state NIL statutes.”
Meanwhile, the NCAA’s strategy has been to ask Congress for help. So far the response has been less than sympathetic. Tweeted Connecticut senator Chris Murphy on Monday, “The NCAA collusion machine, designed to keep college athletes impoverished so the billions in profits can be kept for a small cabal of insiders, is finally starting to crumble to pieces.”
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling likely opens the door for further lawsuits and legislation. The tide has turned. You can’t reap millions in revenue from an enterprise that is based on the work of amateurs. Blinded by money, the NCAA has only itself to blame.