NCAA's Own Actions and Comments Show It Is Starting to Weaken

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NCAA's Own Actions and Comments Show It Is Starting to Weaken
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NCAA President Mark Emmert

Through all the missteps and conflicts, one thing has remained constant with the NCAA: It has projected overwhelming confidence to the public—some might even call it arrogance—despite the growing notion that it’s losing control.

Until now.

As conference commissioners line up to clobber their governing body—with Big 12 head honcho Bob Bowlsby going as far to say that it should “reconfigure the leadership”the greatest threat remains the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit.

This potential game-changer class certification suit made its courtroom debut on June 20. If certified, the archaic structure of the “student-athlete” could be significantly altered, and a business model built on a small percentage of athletes generating the revenue for everyone else would be given the TNT treatment in an instant.

What started as a suit to gain financial compensation for athletes whose likenesses were used by EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company has expanded to include the NCAA and, more specifically, the robust television money generated from college football. 

The NCAA recently discontinued its relationship with EA Sports and its yearly college football game, citing the following “reasoning” in a press release.

The NCAA has made the decision not to enter a new contract for the license of its name and logo for the EA Sports NCAA Football video game. The current contract expires in June 2014, but our timing is based on the need to provide EA notice for future planning. As a result, the NCAA Football 2014 video game will be the last to include the NCAA's name and logo. We are confident in our legal position regarding the use of our trademarks in video games. But given the current business climate and costs of litigation, we determined participating in this game is not in the best interests of the NCAA.

Yes, the NCAA did say “cost of litigation," no need to adjust your screen. Well, after all, at least that does sound slightly more professional than “We’ve decided to drop everything and run.''

The NCAA can outline its reasons for ending this relationship, although clearly there are more than a few outstanding legal fees at work. With the O’Bannon lawsuit casting a dark cloud, the NCAA has reached the throw-the-fire-extinguisher-into-the-volcano portion of the exercise.

Is defending itself against the O'Bannon lawsuit incredibly expensive for the NCAA? Absolutely. Does it feel like the root of the breakup? Oh, come on.

At almost the same instance it cut ties with EA, Donald Remy, the NCAA's vice president for legal affairs, provided a rare public tidbit, via USA Today Sports, on the O’Bannon suit, tipping his hand slightly. 

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.

In particular, we would lose the very real opportunity for at least 96% of NCAA male and female student-athletes who do not compete in Division I men's basketball or FBS football to play a sport and get an education, as they do today.

Back in April, Remy referred to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit as, “Baseless theories supported only by inaccurate speculation aimed at destroying amateurism in college athletics.”

Less than three months later, the message has shifted. This “scheme” suddenly “threatens college sports as we know it,” and the once puffy-chested NCAA is now acknowledging the possibility of defeat.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Perhaps more glaring than this rare sign of weakness is this cryptic desire for public support. Good luck.

After seemingly dismissing the O’Bannon suit since its inception, the reality is coming into focus. In its latest response, the NCAA is beginning to paint a picture of the aftermath of a loss and how it could negatively impact other collegiate sports.

The problem? This is the business model it created.

The expectation and understanding that football and basketball players must hold up the entire collegiate foundation—being compensated for their efforts only by scholarship—is the origin of the issue.

While the NCAA never assumed that someone would take this structure to task, or perhaps get this far in attempting to do so, that's no longer the case. 

The momentum is unmistakable, and the NCAA can sense it. The latest moves and remarks are a testament to that.

Michael Hausfeld, one of the attorneys working against the NCAA, sees it as well. "It's hypocritical.…It's all they have left," Hausfeld told USA Today Sports. "They're desperate. That statement was an expression of desperation."

The NCAA built its mansion on a block of ice, refusing to acknowledge the possibility of a climate change. Well, guess what? It’s warming up.

 

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