As the veil of amateurism is peeled further back, it's more and more evident that the status quo's days in big-time college athletics are numbered.
Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Co., two former co-defendants in the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit, have drawn a fine line when it comes to using an athlete's name and likeness.
On Wednesday, Jon Solomon of AL.com reported that an NCAA document showed just how far EA and Collegiate Licensing wanted to go in the popular NCAA Football video game franchise.
Electronic Arts Sports and Collegiate Licensing Company sought in 2007 to use players' names in video games, according to an NCAA document from its study group on the use of athletes' names and likenesses. The document, which summarized guest comments at the meeting, noted that rosters were already embedded within video games, "hidden, in a way."
In an ironic twist, EA was willing to include more NCAA fluff in exchange for making the game more realistic.
In exchange for more authentic video games, EA offered to recommit to inserting NCAA-requested elements like "academic related features, APR, NCAA values etc.," the document said.
Using an athlete's name and likeness while restricting their ability to profit from it is beyond immoral. Television broadcasts, video games, memorabilia sales and the like—there's a lot of money being made at the expense of those who play the game. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports explains in his column last year on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel:
Allowing athletes to make money off their own endorsement deals, appearance fees or simple fame is a different argument than "paying" the players. No school money is involved. This isn't about a salary or stipend.
Instead, it leaves everything to the open market (a right any other student at the school enjoys) and is only opposed because athletic departments would prefer to control all of the possible revenue available from their sports.
Even in a crusade against a player's right to license themselves, college football's powers that be understand what they're doing. The NCAA and its membership may be many things, but stupid is not one of them.
At the same time, the model is not surprising. Any enterprise would refuse to relinquish control if it doesn't have to and/or if it's never challenged on it.
There's a lot of cash at stake too.
Another Solomon article from AL.com said "O'Bannon economic expert Daniel Rascher estimated that a football player on Alabama's 2010 team would have received $47,330 from live broadcasting revenue that year and about $190,000 over four years."
Now, imagine paying out in a class-action suit involving current and former players. O'Bannon plaintiffs have even sought to amend their class definition for players who "could have been included (by virtue of their appearance in a team roster)" in video games and television broadcasts.
The possible list of those affected just keeps growing. How many will ultimately see a dime remains to be seen.
Still, penance will be paid in some form. EA and Collegiate Licensing have since dropped out of the O'Bannon lawsuit, announcing a settlement with the plaintiffs last year.
That leaves the NCAA as the lone defender of amateurism.
Unless college athletics' governing body settles before then, the O'Bannon lawsuit is bound for trial beginning on June 9. Though the vibe of the Feb. 20 hearing in front of a federal judge seemed to favor the plaintiffs, that's not necessarily what occurred.
According to Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann, last week's hearing was not a matter of taking sides.
Careful interpreting the judge's questions in O'Bannon hearing: She may be tough on NCAA to test her understanding, not to signal opposition— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) February 20, 2014
But the lines between the NCAA and student-athletes have been drawn for some time. Now that Northwestern players are pushing for the right to collectively bargain as university employees, the NCAA is fighting a two-front battle.
Should student-athletes be paid?
Given that the NCAA made its bed with the amateurism argument decades ago in order to avoid workers' compensation costs, it will undoubtedly lie in it until the end.
That's not to say a change in the definition of amateurism wouldn't have its own set of complications, as Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports writes. In fact, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta has gone on the record as saying he'd rather quit than figure out how to pay players.
(The question here is whether that says more about the complications of paying players, or who's in charge at institutions of higher learning.)
The status quo is the status quo, after all, because it's simple and it works for the folks in charge. But that doesn't make it right.
With each passing year, as television contracts get bigger and the sport gets more popular, defending the purity of the sport gets harder to do.
Even for the entity sworn to do so.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.