Finally, we might actually have some common sense injected into the madness of March. For decades, some of us have been convinced that the multi-billion dollar spectacle known as the NCAA has nothing to do with money. They don’t hear the cha-chings in the background as one deal after another is being made, with licenses and images being sold for billions. We believe that the organization is only thinking about academics when coaches like John Calipari, who have terrible graduation rates, are signing $30 million dollar deals to coach “amateur athletes.” Our emotions are manipulated like cheap prostitutes, as we let the NCAA convince us that this global economic Goliath is simply the haven of weekend warriors who are just out there for the love of the game.
Fortunately, Ed O’Bannon and his attorneys are working to educate the NCAA on the nature of its existence. O’Bannon is a former college basketball star at UCLA who found that even after graduation, his face, name and jersey were gracing the covers of videogames and appearing in television commercials, all earning money for someone else. In a major anti-trust lawsuit filed in California, O’Bannon has questioned the fact that the NCAA uses former athlete images in a multitude of contexts without sharing any of that revenue with the athlete.
A major hurdle was cleared this week as the court threw out the NCAA’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. This decision opens the door for discovery on NCAA licensing deals, as the world will now get a chance to see just how they earn billions of dollars each year off the backs of college athletes.
This money doesn’t disappear simply because the player’s families are not getting paid. The funds are used to finance multi-million deals for coaches, administrators, NCAA officials, and television commentators. If they were to share the money with the athlete’s family, they would surely have less for themselves.
The black community should pay special attention to the lawsuit because African-Americans provide a disproportionate amount of the low cost labor that the NCAA uses to fuel its multi-billion dollar empire. The NCAA earns as much money during March Madness as the World Series, and everyone gets rich from their show. The only exception is the mother of the star player, who gets to watch the game on her television in a housing project across the country. She might also get the thrill of seeing her son made into public enemy number one because someone bought him an illegal bag of groceries or paid for his dinner. I am not sure when we decided to live in a country where it would be illegal for someone to be compensated for work they’ve actually done.
Congress is paying attention to the lawsuit, since it opens the door to question the tax exempt status of the NCAA. The last thing our country needs during a recession is for a major organization like the NCAA to avoid paying taxes. For decades, the NCAA has been able to hide behind amateurism and a highly questionable academic mission as an escape from fiscal responsibility, but anyone who follows college sports knows that the games are anything but amateur. Athletes are expected to act as professionals, practice as professionals and are recruited to be professionals on campus.
Academic work takes a backseat to basketball practice, as coaches put the heat on players in order to protect their own million dollar paychecks. In fact, coaches with high graduation rates are fired if they don’t win games, while those who win championships and have low graduation rates are given multi-million dollar bonuses: that is not the decision-making process of an academic institution. Perhaps it’s time for us to stop lying to ourselves and call the NCAA for what it really is: A professional sports league. We should also stop allowing the NCAA to earn excessive profits from the images of athletes without compensating them. That kind of behavior is illegal:
It is my greatest hope that this lawsuit will allow us to examine the broad nexus of rules and restraints that the NCAA has put on the mobility of athlete labor and their rights to secure their own financial rewards. This degree of exploitation is so deep and impactful that it could not have been created by accident. To drain so much in resources from a community in such an effective way, you have to plan your strategy carefully. When this lawsuit is over, the NCAA should be subject to Congressional hearings.