All signs point to a new era of college football being ushered in sooner rather than later.
EA Sports and College Licensing Company settled their portions of the Ed O'Bannon case last week, leaving the NCAA on an island. More bad news hit the NCAA office in Indianapolis this week when Winston & Straw LLP, a law firm that includes a partner, Jeff Kessler, who helped bring free agency to the NFL, announced that it is creating a college athletics division focused on unpaid athletes, according to Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg.
Talk about being in the right business at the right time.
According to a report from Mark Coomes from InsiderLouisville.com (h/t TheBigLead.com), the average college football player at a top 10 school would have earned $418,768 during the 2011-12 school year, if FBS had a revenue sharing agreement similar to the NFL or NBA.
That's a stark contrast to the average value of a scholarship of those schools, which the report states is $23,325. That's a little deceiving since the landscape of college athletics and its legal hurdles are much different than those of professional sports.
But still, it's clear that players aren't receiving anywhere close to fair market value for their services.
The NCAA can boast its non-profit status and preach the virtues of amateurism all it wants, but it's becoming more and more clear that it's fighting a losing battle. Big-time college athletics, college football in particular, is a multi-billion dollar business these days that's generating revenue off vastly under-compensated student-athletes.
The race to beef up its bottom line has chipped away at its very foundation—the spirit of amateurism.
Now even current athletes have joined the fight, as six players, including Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham and Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer, joined the O'Bannon case against the NCAA (and, at the time, EA and CLC). In September, players from several teams wrote the letters "APU" standing for "All Players United" on their equipment. The movement was a semi-organized protest to support the players in the suit bringing attention to player welfare issues such as compensation and head trauma.
There is some hope on the horizon.
Full cost of attendance has become a hot topic of late, as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive have been championing the idea of providing a yearly stipend to cover the gap between what athletic scholarships cover and the full cost of attending college. That stipend, as Mike Slive stated in June, could be up to $4,000 per year.
That probably wouldn't fly with the lower revenue programs in conferences with smaller television contracts, and could drive a split in FBS to form a "division four."
But it's apparent that stipend won't be enough, as evidenced by the nearly $400,000 gap between what a player gets and what a player is worth.
Will player compensation be the driving force behind a split of FBS?
Figuring out how to pay college athletes is a complicated process. Providing fair market value to players in a market that is decidedly unfair from team to team and sport to sport is nearly impossible, especially under the guise of amateurism.
One way could be to allow players to profit off of their name in any way they see fit, and place those funds into a trust monitored by the NCAA that's only available upon graduation. That would allow players to capitalize on their value while maintaining "amateur" status and holding up the "student" part of the student-athlete designation.
The wave of support is growing in favor of the player, and if the NCAA doesn't do something in a hurry, it's going to reach a tipping point.