The week of July 14-20 has been hell for the NCAA.
Tuesday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive took the organization to task for being an archaic Gordian knot that must be sliced through for real progress to occur. Wednesday, the NCAA cut ties with Electronic Arts, the makers of the NCAA football and basketball video games. Thursday, it was revealed that six current NCAA athletes had joined the ranks of former players suing the NCAA.
Basically, the NCAA has endured a week of taking on water, the big wave coming on Thursday with the news of current players joining the suit. From ESPN.com:
Led by a pair of Arizona Wildcats, six current college football players from major programs on Thursday joined a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA, significantly raising the stakes in a court battle that challenges the economic model of big-time college sports.
The players are: Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer and kicker Jake Smith, Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham, Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson, and Minnesota tight end Moses Alipate and wide receiver Victor Keise.
None of the players are among the "household names" ranks of the college football elite, but their role in the lawsuit certainly makes them stars on the legal stage.
Up until this point, the lawsuit was about former players having their images used. Now, with the new development, walls that the NCAA and its supporters believed to be firmly intact are coming down.
These players did not join the lawsuit in spite of their schools. Rather, they got the backing of their coaches and their administrative staff in an effort to be one of the voices that speaks out for the current players.
It is no longer merely schools and the NCAA versus former players. Lines are blurred. Schools and players are challenging the NCAA. This is, essentially, a much more active, and aggressive, version of Slive pushing for conferences and institutions to help their players.
Former players have had a voice since the inception of the lawsuit. Schools largely stayed out of it as they allowed the NCAA to handle the sticky subject. Now, in this rapidly changing climate, where coaches support the stipends and player compensation and commissioners are calling for more athlete relief, these six players have stepped up to help lead the charge for change.
The NCAA could feel the heat. When the judge ruled that the plaintiff list could be amended to allow current players, the game certainly changed. The NCAA fired back a letter that stated they would not retaliate against or coerce athletes who chose to join the lawsuit.
With that, the gates were open and these six players stepped up to the challenge. A challenge that the NCAA notices, and per chief legal officer Donald Remy, understands raises more than just likeness issues:
“College sports today are valued by the student-athletes who compete and all of us who support them. However, the plaintiffs' lawyers in the likeness case now want to make this about professionalizing a few current student-athletes to the detriment of all others. Their scheme to pay a small number of student-athletes threatens college sports as we know it."
The NCAA is fighting back and their fight is rooted in the ideal of putting on all of the sports, not just the major sells of football and basketball.
That said, every school is not fully in line with the NCAA. Current players do not have to remain faceless, nameless LB No. 33 within the lawsuit or on the larger stage of speaking up for themselves. The plaintiffs have wrestled even more power onto their side and are putting the pressure on the NCAA.
The NCAA is staring down the barrel of a major legal ruling, a ruling in which a win appears to be getting further and further from their grasp. It will be interesting to see what the future of college sports looks like, revenue and non-revenue, following this ruling.