The NCAA’s latest multi-billion-dollar TV deal is the surest sign yet collegiate athletes must be paid…not enslaved

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The rule of thumb for the NCAA when describing signing TV deals greater than that of the GNP of Jamaica or Brunei is that it’s a good thing, for the sport, for the schools and for the conferences.

They’re careful not to say it’s good for the athletes. Because it’s not.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Imagine for a moment that you run a firm of designers, contractors and builders. Now imagine for another moment that your group wins the contract(s) to build One World Trade Center ($3.8 billion), the Wynn Las Vegas ($2.7 billion), the LA Rams’ new stadium ($1 billion), the Tesla Gigafactory ($200 million), LeBron’s house in Akron ($9 million) …with enough leftover to buy and refurbish Neverland Ranch, including hiring Chip and Jo Gaines from Fixer Upper to do it.

There’s only one caveat: You have to do it for free.

Welcome to the NCAA, athletes.

Even though traditional viewership (see: Any guy over 42 who watches cable and is thinking about actually ordering something from Wing Street) slacked off more than Ethan Hawke in his 20s, this tournament season CBS, which has owned rights to the tournament since ‘82—around the time Charles Barkley wore Auburn blue short pants—has doubled down and partnered with Turner to extend rights for TV and digital adding eight years to the existing contract (now set to expire in 2032).

The cost: $8.8 billion with $1.1 billion each year from each company, up from the roughly $774 million the NCAA currently takes in annually for exclusive tourney access. From now until the deal’s fruition, CBS and Turner have committed nearly $22 billion to the NCAA in rights fees.

The new eight-year extension alone would pay EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 420,000 current NCAA athletes $21,000, presumably to be placed in a lock box of a low-yield money market account trust that’s only accessible to them several years post-grad.

I get that there’s some math there ^ to work out, but the bottom line is the bottom line: If the NCAA is intent building a multi-media, multi-platform juggernaut that generates more dollars than Carl Sagan thinks there are stars—and the performers themselves who donate their minds, bodies, time and personalities to the cause in exchange for some some dorm ramen, a lanyard with keys on it and a Nike warmup with some slogan a Junior High kid might throw in a book report about a book he didn’t read—something is wrong.

Very wrong.

I’m not saying athletes need to get paid outright, but a nice little bonus for the effort on the field hockey pitch or badminton court after the lights dim when said athlete is passing the time reading Onion articles between #worknaps and handing the keys off to a Ford Escape that smells like someone ignored the no-smoking dashboard sticker along with the no-sharing passenger seat sticker—might be an appropriate gesture.

Currently, the NCAA gets its revenue from the 90+ national championships the organization holds, according to NCAA president Mark Emmert. And since the NCAA doesn’t conduct the College Football Playoff (that money goes straight to the schools and conferences, but nothing for athletes), the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is its main source of revenue. “The distribution that comes out of this revenue stream gives [member schools] the ability to host and conduct their athletic departments and programs,” Emmert said.

Sure, yeah—but isn’t that what boosters are for?

The contract extension is similar to NBC Sports’ move in 2014 to add a dozen years to its current Olympics deal—which also runs through 2032. Those athletes—in the name of some mangled definition of amateurism, which has nothing to do with being an amateur—don’t get anything from that either.

At this point, a supreme court ruling on the O’Bannon case can’t come soon enough: As refresher, the lawsuit, which former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon filed on behalf of the NCAA’s Division I football and men’s basketball players, challenges the organization’s use of the images of its former student athletes for commercial purposes.

The suit argues that upon graduation, a former student athlete should become entitled to financial compensation for NCAA’s commercial uses of his or her image. The NCAA maintains that paying its athletes would be a violation of its concept of amateurism in sports—which is kind of like a John saying paying hookers violates his basic human right to sex.

In 2013, District Judge Claudia Wilken found for O’Bannon, saying NCAA’s rules and bylaws operate as an unreasonable restraint of trade, in violation of antitrust law. The Court also said it would separately enter an injunction regarding the specific violations. As a result in March 2016, O’Bannon’s lawyers appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

The case could be groundbreaking if the Court sides with O’Bannon. Even if its specifics only apply to the use of images for former student athletes, there is a very clear line to draw to compensate for the use and promotion of current athletes’ services and images.

At which point, it is conceivable athletes could unionize and strike until they’re paid a sum commensurate to the amount they bring in at the turn style and over the wi-fis.

Until then, the NCAA is asking us to willingly participate in the showcasing of indentured servants and the networks are betting big we will be complicit.

So far, we are.

 

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