But while amateurism—and the free labor it provides—may be necessary to the preservation of the NCAA, and perhaps to the profit margins of various interested corporations and educational institutions, what if it doesn’t benefit the athletes? “Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes,” Sonny Vaccaro says. “Ninety percent African Americans.” The NCAA made its money off those kids, and so did he.
But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves.
Here, a leading civil-rights historian makes the case for paying college athletes—and reveals how a spate of lawsuits working their way through the courts could destroy the NCAA.
Stifling thought, the universities, in league with the NCAA, have failed their own primary mission by providing an empty, cynical education on college sports.
The most basic reform would treat the students as what they are—adults, with rights and reason of their own—and grant them a meaningful voice in NCAA deliberations.
Hausfeld read to me from page 390: The college player cannot sell his own feet (the coach does that) nor can he sell his own name (the college will do that). (He is now 89.) Was that part of the plaintiffs’ strategy for the O’Bannon trial? “I’d rather the NCAA lawyers not fully understand the strategy,” he said.
This is the plantation mentality resurrected and blessed by today’s campus executives. He put the spiny book away and previewed what lies ahead. “We know our clients are foreclosed: neither the NCAA nor its members will permit them to participate in any of that licensing revenue.These were eminent reformers—among them the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, two former heads of the U. Olympic Committee, and several university presidents and chancellors. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them.Not all the members could hide their scorn for the “sneaker pimp” of schoolyard hustle, who boasted of writing checks for millions to everybody in higher education.“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry? You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir,” Vaccaro added with irrepressible good cheer, “but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. I can only offer it.”William Friday, a former president of North Carolina’s university system, still winces at the memory.In signing the statement, the athletes attest that they have amateur status, that their stated SAT scores are valid, that they are willing to disclose any educational documents requested, and so forth. “You can’t get to the bottom of our case without exposing the hypocrisy of amateurism, and Walter Byers says it eloquently.” An assistant brought in Byers’s memoir.Already, Hausfeld said, the defendants in the Ed O’Bannon case have said in court filings that college athletes thereby transferred their promotional rights forever. It looked garish on the shiny table because dozens of pink Post-its protruded from the text.“And we want to know what they’re carrying on their books as the value of their archival footage,” he concluded. “And every player knows those millions are floating around only because of the 18-to-22-year-olds.” Yes, he told me, even the second-string punter believes a miracle might lift him into the NFL, and why not?In all the many pages of the three voluminous Knight Commission reports, there is but one paragraph that addresses the real-life choices for college athletes.“I want to give something back.” Call it redemption, he told me. The outcome of the 1984 Regents decision validated an antitrust approach for O’Bannon, King argues, as well as for Joseph Agnew in his continuing case against the one-year scholarship rule.Lawyers for Sam Keller—a former quarterback for the University of Nebraska who is featured in video games—are pursuing a parallel “right of publicity” track based on the First Amendment.The shoe salesman and the white-shoe lawyer made common cause. When I talked with Hausfeld there not long ago, he sat in a cavernous conference room, tidy in pinstripes, hands folded on a spotless table that reflected the skyline.Hausfeld LLP has offices in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and London. He spoke softly, without pause, condensing the complex fugue of antitrust litigation into simple sentences.