John Clay: What we're learning about college sports at NCAA trial

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 21, 2014 

When interviewing a college administrator, coach or athlete, every sportswriter has at one time or another thought, "If only I could get these people under oath."

That's exactly what has happened the past two weeks in Oakland, Calif., during the trial concerning the lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon against the NCAA over NILs, i.e. names, images and likenesses of athletes used by the NCAA in both television broadcast rights and marketing.

O'Bannon believes student-athletes are entitled to the money that comes from those NILs. The NCAA argues paying players would violate the body's core values of amateurism.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken expects to wrap up the bench trial this week before rendering her decision at a later date. That decision is sure to be appealed.

However, after the trial's first two weeks, news accounts have given us some interesting tidbits. Here are six:

1. The NCAA itself suspected that there could be a future legal problem with using players' names, images and likenesses.

In 2010, NCAA vice president Wally Renfro sent an email to then new president Mark Emmert saying that it is "a fairness issue, and along with the notion that athletes are students is the great hypocrisy of intercollegiate athletics."

Emmert testified that he disagreed with that assertion, but admitted he never discussed that with Renfro.

2. To hear Emmert and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany talk, the NCAA would basically disband if it was forced to pay the players.

Emmert claimed that fans would stop watching college sports if the players were compensated.

Delany said the Big Ten would cease to exist if players were paid, and even claimed that the Rose Bowl would go out of business.

3. Texas women's athletics director Chris Plonsky also took the stand, and it was noted that the Austin school has the largest athletics budget in the nation at $165 million. There are 500 student-athletes at the school — 1 percent of the student population.

4. Ellen Staurowsky, a sports management professor at Drexel University, testified that college football coach salaries have increased by 650 percent from 1986 to 2010.

(Locally, UK agreed to pay then new basketball coach Billy Gillispie $2.3 million per year back in 2007. Just this month, UK agreed to pay current basketball coach John Calipari an average of $7.5 million over the next seven years. That's an increase of 226 percent from 2007 to 2014.)

5. In its defense of amateurism, the NCAA claims that its business model has always been based on athletes being students first. After all, anti-trust laws state that monopolies can conduct price-fixing — the plaintiff's contention — if it accomplishes a common good.

Yet Delany, himself a former basketball player at North Carolina, testified that athletes spend too much time on sports in season and that off-season training, etc., keep athletes from the true student experience, such as summer internships or being able to study abroad.

When the basketball season is over, said Delany, "we should put a lock on the gym."

6. Kentucky basketball's Wildcat Coal Lodge has come up in the suit. Plaintiffs' attorney Bill Isaacson used athletic dorms at Kentucky, Ohio State, Alabama and other schools to argue athletes are given "luxurious" living quarters different from other students.

Emmert replied that the NCAA requires that at least half of each dorm be occupied by non-athletes.

In the end, the decision will most likely come down to a question that Judge Wilken has asked during the trial:

Do the rules protect the student-athletes or do the rules protect the schools?

Can't wait to see what the trial's final week will bring.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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