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Previously: Strikers and attacking mids.
Brad Davis is gone. Zusi and Bedoya will be 31, plausible but perhaps not ideal. Since neither is exactly the first name on the team sheet it's 50/50 whether they hang on for the entirety of another cycle. The guess here is no.
I won't be splitting the wings into different bins, because these days so many of them play inverted. Oddly, most of the available talent for the next cycle is more comfortable on the left, but especially here take right/left with a grain of salt. The US projects to have a couple of bombers at fullback, so cutting in will be at least as important as crossing.
JULIAN GREEN – left wing – Bayern Munich (Germany) – 23 in 2018 – 3 caps:
The USA's most hyped prospect ever already has as many World Cup goals as Wayne Rooney, even if it doesn't seem like he's quite ready yet. Ideally he'll break through into the Bayern first team. Pep Guardiola says they want him on the first team this year, FWIW. That would be terrific if he actually sees time; more likely perhaps is that he gets loaned out to a mid-table Bundesliga team.
Whatever happens on a club level, US will integrate him with the players he'll be combining with over the next four years as early as possible. One dollar he gets his first start against the Czechs in September. (It is a FIFA date.)
JOSH GATT – right wing - Molde (Norway) – 26 in 2018 – 2 caps
Lightning quick, Gatt was gathering attention from big clubs after a stellar introduction at Molde. Then back-to-back ACL tears hacked him down. He is on the shelf until 2015 (like the US, Norway plays over the summer). Multiple serious injuries are always a concern, but the latest one was a 'clean' ACL tear that he's projected to recover from fully.
A fixture in the Norwegian champions' side when healthy, the best case for Gatt is that he recovers from his ACL, has a strong 2015, and transfers to a second-tier European league like Holland. As long as he maintains his speed he's a good bet for the US, as he's ahead of his competitors in age and experience.
After Green this is all a WAG, but the prospect of the US starting Green/Johnson/Gatt/Yedlin would give the US the fastest flanks in the 2018 World Cup unless Holland has an army of Arjen Robben clones on the way.
MARC PELOSI – left wing – Liverpool (England) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Pelosi skipped the US system for a youth contract with Liverpool and was promising enough to ink a long-term contract despite a nasty broken leg. Pelosi is also a prospect at left back and potentially in the center of midfield, a versatility that gives him the nod here, for what little that's worth right now.
He returned to the field for Liverpool's U21 side in April; before the injury he was named to the 18 for one of Liverpool's Europa League matches.
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JOE GYAU – left wing – Borussia Dortmund(Germany) – 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
enjoys a dance
Gyau just moved to Borussia Dortmund, a Champions League regular, despite a lack of playing time so far. He is explicitly in their U23 reserves. Even so, that's a good sign, as Dortmund has a habit of scooping up talented young guys and making them stars.
Gyau is one slippery little bugger who immediately caught my eye when I saw him play for the US on some youth level or another, an excellent example of the what-if-slot-receivers-played-soccer thing. He has produced in buckets in the lower German leagues (in Germany there isn't a separate reserve league; instead there's a Dortmund II that plays in the third or fourth tier).
BREK SHEA – left wing – Stoke (England) – 28 in 2018 – 26 caps
The enigmatic Shea has proven he's got the ability to turn games around as a substitute, and at 6'3" with wheels he has a tantalizing physical package. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to do anything with that package since his move to Stoke, with just three appearances in the EPL.
Shea's departure from Dallas was acrimonious and a brief loan into the Championship was terminated after a blow up between Shea and some opposing fans, so he may not be a great fit on the USMNT. If he finds a club, establishes himself a regular starter, and performs then we can start talking. Now that seems a long long way off. Shea should in fact be in the next section but I wrote this up so here he is.
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Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya should feature on and off for the next couple years as the young guys mature. You wouldn't go amiss predicting one makes the roster, if you're pessimistic. Fabian Johnson could also figure in here if the situation at outside back looks suddenly rosy—his existence is why I'm projecting only three winger types on the roster.
Younger fringe options include DC's Nick DeLeon, who had a great rookie year in 2012 before hamstring issues submarined his sophomore year. If he doesn't get a look pretty soon he'll probably play for Trinidad & Tobago. He'll be 27 at the next World Cup, time to decide.
The brutal physical demands of defensive midfielder will excise Jones and Beckerman, who will be 36 in 2018. Either might hang on for a year or two as the US tries to lock down a Confed Cup slot in next year's Gold Cup and prepares for the Super Copa America or whatever they're calling it in 2016, but the US should start blooding a new generation immediately.
MICHAEL BRADLEY – Toronto FC – 30 in 2018 -
I think this: Bradley needs a guy with him if he's going to play at the top of a diamond. The US's possession got much better when Wondolowksi came in and Dempsey dropped back to help out. Whether that's a 4-4-2 of some variety or Bradley moving back into a second D-mid slot to provide a true #10 a spot on the field I don't know.
I also think this: in the next cycle it seems like a 4-3-3 suits the US best, as they can go with one true holder and put Bradley and the next gentleman in front of him.
WIL TRAPP – Columbus Crew – 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
One sentence description: the exact opposite of Maurice Edu.
I split these into attacking and defensive mid sections for simplicity, but Trapp doesn't really fit either category. He's got Damarcus Beasley's frame but plays central midfield for the Crew, where he is a homegrown player and vice-captain. Yes, at 21. He's a key component of Gregg Berhalter's possession-based approach, popping up on a number of MLS stat leaderboards. Soccer stats never tell you the whole story, but this one is eye-popping:
American Xavi! Or Pirlo! Or something, anyway. Gonzalez being #2 on this list is bizarre; as always, take soccer stats lightly.
Even so, in April he manufactured a 90th-minute equalizer with an inch-perfect pass from his side of midfield to the 18-yard box. Trapp's technical quality will get him a look, probably as soon as September.
SHANE O'NEILL – Colorado Rapids – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
O'Neill has been starting for his club at central defense, but with those slots likely in older hands for 2018, O'Neill should get a look in central midfield, which he has the skillset for—before breaking through in Colorado he was a midfielder and sometimes a forward.
One note: O'Neill is an inverse Johannsson, born in Ireland before moving to the US at a young age. He has suggested he would accept a call-up from the FAI if the US wasn't forthcoming. Expect him to get capped sooner rather than later as a result.
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CALEB STANKO – Freiburg (Germany) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Stanko is on the verge of breaking through to the Freiburg first team at 20. He was the USA's first choice central defender in the most recent U20 World Cup, a competition in which the US gave up piles of goals as they tried to press the likes of France and Spain—not really his fault.
At Freiburg he's a defensive midfielder, sometimes captain of their reserve team, and he's made the bench for a couple of games.
MAURICE EDU – Philadelphia Union – 32 in 2018 – 46 caps
Edu should have been on this year's World Cup roster if Beckerman and Jones were going to play together, but was omitted. He's been a pure destroyer for the US for years; fast and physical with limited ability on the ball, he's a stereotypical USA D-mid. Ideally he'll get passed by younger players.
DANNY WILLIAMS – Reading (English 2nd) - 29 in 2018 – 13 caps
Williams had a run of caps in the middle of the last cycle at D-mid and sometimes in an odd right wing role that didn't fit his skillset. He's dropped from the Bundesliga to the English Championship. He is getting plenty of PT at Reading and should be in his prime in four years.
Like Edu he's not the most technical guy. His best bet is if the US is still in the market for a pure destroyer; his problem is that there are a number of promising CB/DM hybrids who seem like they can fulfill that role and do a better job of retaining possession.
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DC United mainstay Perry Kitchen was also on that Akron team. He's turned into a pretty good MLS player but not the star some were projecting he'd be. Philadelphia's Amobi Okugo is a younger version of Edu. Both will be in their mid-20s and could slide onto the roster.
There is a pile of guys who move back and forth from central D to defensive mid covered in the central defense section. O'Neill is one; there's also Will Packwood, Tim Ream, and Jeff Cameron.
I promised I'd write a post this week on how Michigan's latest crop of NBA players fit in with their new teams. When I said this, I forgot a fundamental aspect of the NBA offseason—namely, that the post-draft free agency period is complete and utter chaos, so projecting what teams will look like in October can be rather difficult. Adding to the difficulty: two of the three Michigan draftees went to teams whose front office decisions are often summed up with a hearty ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Undeterred, here's my best effort.
Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings
In three of the last four years, the Kings have attempted to pick their shooting guard of the future, first with BYU's Jimmer Fredette in 2011, then Kansas' Ben McLemore in 2013, and now with Stauskas. Fredette is now on the Bulls. In related news, the Kings haven't been very good, winning just 34% of their games in each of the last two seasons. They're also a team with a lot up in the air at the moment: they just signed point guard Darren Collison, making it very likely restricted free agent PG Isaiah Thomas will play elsewhere next season. The Kings have rumored interest in Detroit's Josh Smith and several others; after a very disappointing rookie season, McLemore could even be on the table as trade bait.
It seems unlikely, however, that the Kings would give up on the #7 overall selection from last year's draft so quickly, even with the brutal 7.8 PER McLemore posted last year (the NBA average is 15). Sacramento needs both shooting and bench scoring; Stauskas obviously could provide both, and coming off the bench as a rookie in need of some development, especially defensively, may be the best situation for him anyway. That's how SBNation's Sactown Royalty sees Stauskas getting used in year one:
But the "good news" for the Kings is that their needs are many, including production from their starting shooting guard and wing production from the bench. And this is where Stauskas could potentially help the Kings in a big way.
The drafting of Stauskas is not a death knell for Ben McLemore. Based on how McLemore finished the season, I am guessing that he has at least a slight leg up on Stauskas right now. I'm not saying that the starting job has been given to him by any means. I am saying that he is likely ahead of Stauskas in the here and the now. But when it's all said and done, one of these guys could start and one could get some serious burn off the bench, including in three guard sets. The Kings have a definite need at the positions that Stauskas could fill.
The Kings have a lot of holes left to fill, so this outlook could change dramatically even in the coming hours, depending on what they do with Thomas and McLemore. A Microwave-type role seems ideal for a rookie Stauskas, however, and once he gets used to the NBA game there's a good chance he challenges McLemore for the starting spot at the two.
Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City
McGary has the most obvious fit among Michigan's draftees, though it's one that'll likely have him riding pine for much of his rookie year—not necessarily a bad thing for a guy coming off back surgery. Landing on a great team that doesn't need immediate help up front is a great situation for McGary; he'll be able to ease his way into playing time, and down the road there should be opportunity for much more.
Right now, OKC is pretty much set in the frontcourt. Serge Ibaka is a star, coach Scott Brooks has a baffling affinity for the plodding Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams had a breakout playoff season as an energy/tough guy with a good deal of untapped potential, and Nick Collison is the wily veteran who provides solid rebounding, defense, and a little scoring touch while possessing the versatility to play the four or the five.
Collison's role is the one McGary projects to best, and given Collison's minutes have waned over the last couple seasons, he'll have an opportunity to carve out a small role on a title contender this year—an Adams/McGary pairing off the bench could be a heck of an energy boost. (Also, a potential riot-starter.)
The real opportunity for playing time should come in 2015-16. Collison and Perkins are both entering the final year of their respective contracts; entering this season at 34 years old, it's unlikely Collison will be back. Perkins should be either gone or in a reduced role; even Brooks finally realized last season that he needed to dial back the big man's minutes. A big man rotation of Ibaka-Adams-McGary should be something to build around for the future—you know, alongside those Durant and Westbrook fellows—and that future may not be far off.
Glenn Robinson III, Minnesota Timberwolves
We're well aware that Robinson needs significant development before he's ready to thrive in the NBA. Not only does his defense need work, he's going to have to improve either his jump shot or ballhandling (preferably both) to be a reliable player in halfcourt sets. GRIII's transition game is the one aspect that won't be questioned from the beginning—he can run, fill a lane, and finish with the best of them.
No matter what, Robinson should have a limited role in his rookie season. He's transitioning from playing the four at Michigan to being a small forward in the NBA, which means guarding a wholly different type of player—most rookies struggle with defense as they get used to the higher level of play, and GRIII will be no different. The Wolves don't have a lot of talent on the wing, but they've got enough to allow a second-rounder to ease his way into the rotation.
While the role should be relatively small regardless, it's tough to project anything further with Minnesota considering the current state of the team. Their superstar power forward, Kevin Love, is going to be traded this offseason; he has a player option for 2015-16 that allows him to opt out of his contract and Minnesota has little-to-no chance of re-signing him, so they must act soon or they'll lose one of the league's most valuable players for nothing. They've been in serious trade talks with Golden State; if those fall through, several other teams will line up for a shot at Love, especially once free agent Carmelo Anthony lands on a squad.
Jordan Morgan, Minnesota Timberwolves (Summer League)
J-Mo's situation is pretty simple. He'll play for Minnesota's summer league team, and in doing so he'll hope to earn a training camp invite from any NBA team and/or impress an overseas squad enough to get a shot for a more guaranteed contract. If Morgan is looking for job security, the latter route is the most preferable.
If that doesn't work out, I think Morgan will land on his feet just fine.
This three part series and then we're done for four years, haterz. This three part series: projecting the USA's 2018 roster. All sections ordered by likelihood of inclusion.
The USA's single outfield player older than 32 since 2002 was Brian McBride in 2006, who was a starter at 34. That should eliminate Brad Davis, Chris Wondolowski, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, DaMarcus Beasley, and Clint Dempsey, along with various others in the player pool (Gomez, Donovan, etc) who didn't make the 23.
In addition, Tim Howard will be 39 in 2018. It's not unheard of for a goalie to make it that long, but with the US in possession of Brad Guzan it seems likely Howard will retire internationally, as will Nick Rimando.
Then there are three guys in the age danger zone: Bedoya and Zusi were already weak points at 27. If they're on the roster in 2018 the US will not have progressed as far as we want them to. Cameron will be 32, obviously workable but less than ideal.
There is some chance one or two of the old guys hangs on. Dempsey is the most likely, as there seems to be an obvious we-need-a-goal sub role for him. Beasley, amazingly, would be next since left back is a bitch to fill and he may be immortal.
That leaves the US with approximately 10 spots to fill, 8 of them outfield players.
- The US plays a four-man backline.
- Michael Bradley returns to a defensive mid role, because he can't cover as much ground at 30 and the shape of the player pool changes pretty dramatically this cycle.
- The end result is either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.
- There is a kid no one's ever heard of who will be on the team.
JOZY ALTIDORE – Sunderland (England) - 28 in 2018 – 71 caps
Jozy's obvious. Hopefully he'll get away from the crap end of English football to someplace where the ball comes to him every once in a while.
TERRENCE BOYD – RB Leipzig (Germany 2nd) – 27 in 2018 – 13 caps
Assuming that the US does go with a single central striker most of the time, Klinsmann won't make the same mistake he made in this cycle by leaving without a like for like replacement for his starter. The 6'2" Boyd is capable target forward coming off scoring nearly a goal every two games in the Austrian league who's just transferred back to Germany. While the fact that he's in the 2.Bundesliga is a bit of a disappointment, RB Leipzig is ripping up the divisions after Red Bull purchased them and gave their director a pile of money to rip up the divisions. By 2018 they very well could be a Bundesliga club.
Anyway, Boyd's the most like-for-like guy on the US radar right now, and as a bonus he's pretty good.
JUAN AGUDELO – free agent – 25 in 2018 – 18 caps
Agudelo's in a bit of limbo at the moment since he couldn't get eligible for his club. England restricts non-EU players to exceptional talents. If you've got some percentage of your international team's recent caps they'll let you in, and they'll also make exceptions for particularly young players who have broken through. (Players like Marc Pelosi avoid this process thanks to possession of an EU passport.) Stoke thought Agudelo counted; the board has said no twice. He was forced to play in Holland on loan as a result.
That and ill-timed injuries (he was supposed to be on the 2013 Gold Cup squad) have seen him drop out of the national team picture. He's too talented to remain out of it. His 14 appearances for Utrecht saw him collect three goals and three assists for a relegation-threatened club in desperate need of offense. As of late May he was supposed to be joining Bundesliga outfit Hannover 96.
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ARON JOHANNSSON – AZ Alkmaar (Holland) – 27 in 2018
It's 50/50 whether Johannsson gets on the next roster after only being deployed against Ghana, and then passed over for one of the USA's marginal wing midfielders. Has been bagging goals in Holland, but that's just what happens in Holland.
GYASI ZARDES – LA Galaxy – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps
Despite a late debut as a pro after a four-year career at UCSB that in fact featured a redshirt(!), Zardes has impressed with a combination of size and speed at LA Galaxy. He may be a prime example of a guy who the US development system hurt, but looking through the pool for Lukaku types who can change a game by being large and mean and fast and you land on Zardes.
RUBIO RUBIN – FC Utrecht (Holland) – 22 in 2018 – 0 caps
Speaking of Holland, Rubin is there for a mid-table club trying to break through, impress, and get sold. It's not a bad plan; Rubin was a youth star for the MNT.
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Jack McInerney had a couple of promising years with Philadelphia before hitting a rough patch and getting traded to Toronto; he could be a 25-year-old version of Wondo if things break right for him.Harry Shipp has made an instant impact in MLS after a brief career at ND.
Bobby Wood's been playing in the second tier of German football as a 21 year old and got a Gold Cup callup before his team requested he pass on it. 18-year-old Lynden Gooch is impressing on Sunderland's youth side; similarly barely-legal Paul Arriola is playing for Tijuana in the Mexican league. A kid named Dembakwi Yomba is at Atletico Madrid, having popped up on everyone's radar when he signed there.
The US loses no one from this spot since they don't really have anyone. With a lot of the D-mid depth chart dropping out due to age and the clear problems the US had maintaining possession in this World Cup, goal #1 is going to get something resembling a true #10 on the field so Bradley can slide back.
Fortunately, there are a number of attractive options here. There is in fact a pile.
I don't think anyone's necessarily in or out yet. These guys are ordered by likelihood to show up on the 2018 roster.
DARLINGTON NAGBE – Portland Timbers – 27 in 2018 – 0 caps
Nagbe was born in Liberia and moved around the world a bit before landing in Cleveland as an 11 year old; you may remember him from Michigan's trip to the soccer Final Four. Nagbe was the super-skilled attacking-mid for Akron. A few years later he's become the focal point of Portland's attack. He does crazy, crazy stuff. I would like him to become an American citizen.
Fortunately, Nagbe recently married a citizen. That pushes his timeline forward to 2015. Count on him getting a call-up at the first available opportunity. He'll be in the heart of his prime in 2018.
MIX DISKERUD – Rosenborg (Norway) – 27 in 2018 – 20 caps
Diskerud made this most recent World Cup roster and then didn't get a game. Brad Davis got a game. I am worried about him. Diskerud is talented but physically slight and not extraordinarily fast. He's also still in Norway at 23. If he's in Norway at 27 I don't think he's on the roster.
LUIS GIL – Real Salt Lake – 24 in 2018 – 1 cap
Gil has a shocking number of MLS appearances for a 20-year-old: he's currently on 95, all with RSL. He was the focal point of youth national teams for three or four years—he has a whopping 51 youth caps—and showed incredible craft on the ball.
He's found the transition to MLS a little rougher than you'd like, but he is still a regular starter for RSL and, remarkably, is entering his fifth season as a pro. He got a call-up in the last cycle and will get a heavy look in this one.
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JUNIOR FLORES – Borussia Dortmund (Germany) – 22 in 2018 - 0 caps
Flores was impressive enough to sign a four year deal with a major German club when he was just 16. Since U18 kids can't transfer abroad he had to wait until just a few months ago to sign. Flores led the US to a 3-1 win over Brazil's U20s in some Nike thing or another in which he was clearly the man of the match; he is a true #10, if he can only develop.
Flores can also play for El Salvador but turned down a call-up from them.
GEDION ZELALEM – Arsenal (England) – 21 in 2018 – 0 caps
Zelalem is the other hot prospect USA fans are in vapors about. Born in Germany to Ethiopian parents, Zelalem spent a good chunk of his childhood in the US before Arsenal signed him. His citizenship quest was thought to be a lost cause, but a few months ago someone figured out that if his dad became a citizen before Zelalem turned 18 he would automatically become one without losing the German passport that allows him to skate by England's restrictive foreigner laws.
Zelalem's already made his debut for Arsenal in an FA Cup match and was on the substitutes bench for three league games. That is kind of a big deal at 17. Here's a completely reasonable evaluation of him:
'dribbles like Iniesta and passes like Xavi'
All right then.
Obviously, acquiring US citizenship is hurdle #1 here. Then it's getting a good loan somewhere and establishing himself a EPL-level player.
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Joe Corona has 11 caps and will be 27 in 2018 but I just don't see it happening for him. For one, Nagbe's about to blast ahead of him in the pecking order. For two, he just doesn't seem to have that je ne sais quoi.
The "I can't believe you're still that young" twins: Jose Torres and Freddy Adu are just 26 and 24 at the moment, respectively. It could still happen! Really!
There's also this generation's John O'Brien, Stuart Holden. Holden is 28 and what with all the injuries seems highly unlikely to get to 2018 without seeing his physical abilities drop below the international level, but you never know. Fresh legs, that's the ticket.
Diego Fagundez would not be in this category except for the fact that he's not a citizen yet despite having been in the States since he was five. He recently acquired a green card and will be eligible for citizenship in 2017. That's hypothetically long enough to slot in the team before the World Cup, but at that point he'd have to climb over a number of other aspirants. Also, Uruguay could come calling before then.
Oh, hey there. We have to stop meeting like this.
We don’t meet. We’re the same person. I just hit Ctrl-B and I’m you.
So I’m Tyler Durden, and you’re… Robert Paulson? No, that was Meat Loaf. Wait, Edward Norton didn’t have a name in that movie, did he? Huh. I guess I never realized that.
And neither of us knows Helena Bonham-Carter. But watching Michigan football these days is like punching yourself in the face in a parking lot, so I guess that works.
I’ll be over here making soap if you need anything
Anywho, the O’Bannon trial ended last Friday, and it’s time to poke the corpse with a stick for a while. Many people spent the weeks and months up to the trial saying that the NCAA was probably screwed. Many of those same people spent the three weeks of the trial declaring that the NCAA was DEFINITELY screwed (and mocking them at every turn). And then came the last day of the trial, in which the plaintiffs had a bad day and some people declared that the NCAA was only mostly dead. So, to clear things up, I’ll make the following nuanced legal prediction:
The NCAA remains deeply and profoundly screwed. I think.
We shall delve into the ways, and the likely outcomes, but if you don’t want to read beyond the impending blather and the jump and the more blather, you may enjoy this Fourth of July weekend comfortable in the knowledge that Mark Emmert will, in short order, have a sad.
So why did everyone say the NCAA might not have to go on the cart?
Well, the thing about anti-trust law…
[returns to rendering fat]
…is that it isn’t the remedy for all ills caused by gigantic douchey monoliths. The plaintiff (O’Bannon) has the burden of showing violations of antitrust law, not just terrible behavior; the NCAA could have burned the entire 1995 UCLA Bruins basketball at the stake and it wouldn’t be an antitrust violation. As sports law and antitrust guru Michael McCann put it, antitrust law is “about protecting competition in the marketplace for the benefit of consumers and marketplace participants.” O’Bannon has to point to a specific defined market that the NCAA is harming, and to identify who the buyers are and who the sellers are in the market, as well as the specific harm created to consumers or market participants. If you can’t figure out how that works when we’re talking about college sports, you’re in the company of at least one federal judge.
The plaintiffs struggled to articulate these things at the weird closing argument Q&A the judge did, because it doesn’t really map to college football very well. But while it is understandable, if O’Bannon can’t explain how the NCAA is harming consumers in a specific market, the NCAA could skate.
[AFTER THE JUMP: NSFMBF]
So you’re saying the NCAA might actually WIN this clown show?
Not so fast my bolded friend. The plaintiffs put all of the pieces of an antitrust violation into the record, and they still get to submit a final brief to tie it all together. They can also throw a few theories out there, and as long as something sticks, the plaintiffs are in business. As McCann points out, there is a decent argument in the rubble of these three weeks:
Watch for O’Bannon’s lawyers to simplify their argument in forthcoming filings. They will likely define the relevant market in a straightforward way: Colleges are the buyers and prospective and current student-athletes are the sellers. Through this lens, athletes sell their athletic services to colleges but are denied compensation for the commercial use of their names, images and likenesses. The denial arises because of amateurism rules, which allegedly reveal collusion by the NCAA and its member institutions.
And given how one-sided the trial was generally, any colorable theory will probably be good enough. My guess is that the transcript from economist Roger Noll will probably have more than enough by itself.
What about all of those arguments you claimed the NCAA had? Did any of them stick?
Yeah, notsomuch. As we discussed, the NCAA put forth several theories of about how their rules provided a net positive; that they provided more benefit to the athletes than they did harm. Those arguments played out very not well for The Man. The four arguments were as follows:
1) Competitive balance: The current NCAA structure fosters a competitive balance that would be significantly altered by the elimination of these restrictions, to the detriment of the athletes.
Sure, in the abstract, Middle Tennessee State is operating under the same rules as Alabama, and that they are therefore theoretically on equal footing. But you the plaintiffs didn’t have to dig too deep to prove that this was… uh… not remotely true. Several plaintiff witnesses (especially Roger Noll, who was worth his weight in gold) provided evidence that there is no competitive balance. A ‘fair’ fight is not the same as a competitive fight. You can’t put Tyson in the ring with a 3rd grader, lay down some ground rules, and expect a healthy competition. The numbers bear that out; in both football and men’s basketball, top recruits ALL choose FBS schools, and the vast, vast majority of them choose schools in power conferences. A small subset of teams always comprises the Top 25, an even smaller subset always comprises the Top 10, and an even smaller subset of the subset comprises the Top 1.
Sure, if Big Ten teams decide they can pay players, and Sun Belt teams don’t, Sun Belt teams will probably be at an even greater disadvantage. But how is this any different than the current regime? Teams face these kinds of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses pressures anyway. Wanna compete with Bama and Michigan and Texas? You’d better pour some serious resources into recruiting, facilities, coaches, and unlimited snacks. And despite the fact that those pressures have grown stronger, teams keep trying to join the highest echelons, not flee them.
This was a constant refrain from the plaintiffs: the college football industry does not show the hallmarks of a struggling industry that can’t afford to pay players. Rising salaries, participants trying hard to get INTO the market, and significant capital investments aren’t the kinds of things you expect to see in a struggling industry.
2) Integration with the University: The current NCAA structure helps to facilitate the integration of academics and athletics in student life, and it provides for more competition for athletes, and eliminating NCAA restrictions would destroy that integration.
This has been tricky for both sides, because they’ve had to argue in anecdotal evidence. The plaintiffs try to paint a picture of athletics as a full-time job in which kids are athletes first and students second. They also tried to argue that it sets students apart from mere mortals; they introduced plenty of evidence, pointing out several athletes-only dorms and other athletic support facilities. The parties argued whether athletes take the same classes and majors, or if some of the “classes” and “majors” were specifically designed to get around the whole “college” aspect of college athletics.* Some of the dumbest pieces of evidence have come out of this topic. The NCAA pointed out the fact that a player tweeted about watching television, because if he has time to watch TV he’s just a regular student with down-time to be all normal and stuff.
The NCAA’s problem was that they introduced NO evidence that players receiving money will somehow make them less integrated into college life and academics, or that there is any benefit to competition from the purported integration. Their attempts to do so haven’t been very effective from a legal standpoint, and have been disastrous from a PR standpoint. NCAA witnesses pontificated about the importance of players playing for school pride and “love of the game," and how playing for a paycheck would be different, but in what can only be a news flash to the NCAA, EVERYONE GOES TO COLLEGE FOR MONEY. No one gets an engineering degree because they love circuits.
Judge Wilken determined before the trial that the NCAA “must present evidence to show that (1) the ban on student-athlete compensation actually contributes to the integration of education and athletics and (2) the integration of education and athletics enhances competition” among the universities for football and men's basketball players. I don’t think they did either part, at least not well.
[*North Carolina, we’re looking in your direction. And we just received 3 credits in “Looking in North Carolina’s Direction 101,” which is a pre-requisite to that coveted Visual Acuity major.]
3) Amateurism is vital: Amateurism is a key component of college sports, and the current NCAA model reflects and provides for that “amateurism” in a way that would be materially degraded if these rules were eliminated or weakened.
Possibly the crux of the whole dealy. The NCAA has argued that no one will watch college football if players get paid. It’ll blend into the background of other sports, because it will lose its unique cache. To support this point, the NCAA introduced public opinion surveys in which people said they don’t want players to get paid, and that players getting paid would affect their interest in the sports. There are, however, two problems with those surveys. The first is that this kind of polling rarely matches actual behavior; people often say they believe one thing, and might genuinely think that, but their actions don’t match their words at all. It’s called the value-action gap (or the attitude-behavior gap). For example in every poll most people hated the old division names, but that had virtually zero effect on 2011 ticket sales.
The second problem is that they didn’t really ask clear questions. Getting players “paid” can mean everything from boosters cutting $500k checks to players being full-on professionals to players getting a couple thousand dollars in stipends or letting them sell their signature.
The bigger issue for the NCAA is the mountain of evidence from the plaintiffs demonstrating that the players are already commercialized within an inch of their lives. They showed players wearing Tostido’s jersey patches, in front of sponsor logo backdrops, on sponsored promotional materials, and in and around corporate sponsors in about 12 other ways. They showed that players are ALREADY PAID, and that the NCAA has talked about increasing the amount players can receive. There is no reason to see this any differently than the NLRB saw it; the only difference between these guys and professionals is that you don’t cut them an actual paycheck.
The most amusing exchanges have been when NCAA witnesses have tried to warn of the potential for reforms to open the door for third parties (such as boosters) to pay players. The judge reacted to those argument with a resounding “and?” It’s sort of fun watching someone who hasn’t been bathed in NCAA hysterical doctrine reacting to such things.
4) The Zero-Sum Game Argument: forcing schools to pay money will mean there will be fewer opportunities for players
The NCAA tried to argue that much of the college football
giant Scrooge McDuck coin vault fountain revenue stream goes to things like academic support, player scholarship, etc., and if the schools have to pay revenue to players, they would have to either cut back on spending in such support areas or just offer scholarships to fewer players which would result in fewer opportunities for players. The problem is that the plaintiffs were VERY effective in showing the places that money currently goes that could be otherwise directed to the players. Long story short, coaches’ salaries are out of control and Bama is building waterfalls. Wilken seemed very interested in the NCAA’s explanation of where all of their revenue goes (especially when the NCAA literally couldn’t account for it all).
The broader point is that even if SOME teams wouldn’t be able to afford as much other stuff, some would be able to provide MORE stuff. That’s how free market economics work, and it’s kind of the plaintiffs’ whole point; the market would have a natural equilibrium without these restrictions, and said equilibrium would involve players receiving more than they currently do.
Okay, so does the NCAA have ANY shot?
I see three ways the NCAA can actually win the case:
- O’Bannon can’t put together a coherent antitrust theory. Likelihood: 10%
- One of the NCAA’s justifications is actually good enough to save the current system. Likelihood: 4%
- Wilken buys some sort of overarching penumbra argument that college sports is good and if you change this it might kill it and Y U HATE AMERICA? Likelihood: 1%
So by my amazingly unscientific reasoning, the NCAA is about a 5-to-1 dog at this point, and even that seems generous. They do, however, have a couple of backdoor cover opportunities:
- Appeal. An appellate court doesn’t even need to reverse Wilken’s ultimate decision and almost inevitable injunction, because even if they just reverse some of her rulings (such as her decision to not permit the NCAA to offer an alternative defense that the rules protect non-revenue sports), it could result in a reversal or a new trial.
- Winning by not losing too bad. At this point, I think the NCAA would take a simple “you can’t require players to sign over their NIL rights to you” injunction and run SCREAMING naked through the park. The NCAA knows it has room to absorb a blow, so if they don’t get hit with anything that involves paying players for broadcast rights or fundamentally altering the NCAA rules around athlete compensation from schools, I think they’d call that a decent result.
KenPom time: what does the injunction look like?
Just a complete wild-ass guess, but I’ll say it consists of the following:
- Prevent the NCAA from forcing players to sign over NIL rights, or to use them for commercial products (i.e. video games) without OPTIONAL player consent and compensation.
- Force the NCAA to permit players to take advantage of their own NIL rights through endorsements.
- Force the NCAA to allow schools to compensate athletes through group licensing rights without eligibility restrictions.
- Athlete NIL compensation must be placed in a trust until graduation
- Doesn’t touch NIL broadcast rights.
I’m iffiest on the concept of third-party endorsements, but I think it happens.
Five-star defensive end Keisean Lucier-South has a top 11 list that includes Michigan. It's 11 right now, but I believe Michigan would be on his list if it was just a top 3. Either way, Lucier-South has a public affinity for the Wolverines and his recruitment involving the maize and blue has been and still is trending in a positive direction.
As you'd expect though, a talent like Lucier-South has many suitors. His recruitment is one that will be contested until he finally makes his decision.
"Man, my recruitment is still insane," he said with a laugh. "I'm still talking to coaches everyday, I get letters everyday. Michigan, USC, Oklahoma, Florida, UCLA, Oregon, and all of the schools in my top 11 are all still very involved. It is crazy."
Lucier-South has backed off of calling UCLA his leader and now says that all of his top schools are pretty much even. He still isn't shy about his love for Michigan though, consistently calling them one of his favorites.
"I like Michigan a lot right now," he said. "The coaches direct message me everyday. I hear from Mattison, Hoke, and Ferrigno regularly. Hoke and Mattison don't DM me, but Ferrigno does. The commits are trying to get me there as well. Alex Malzone, Darrin Kirkland, and Chris Clark are all coming after me. They say like, 'Michigan is a great place and we can be really special.' I believe them too. Michigan is doing a great job in my recruitment."
The coaches and the commits aren't the only things attracting Lucier-South to Ann Arbor. For a California kid, he has a lot of love for the Wovlerines.
"I just love the history and the tradition," he explained. "I've been watching Michigan since I was little so that's why I like them so much. I honestly don't really know why I started watching them. My dad is a Michigan fan so I just always watched the games with him."
In his own words, Lucier-South says that Michigan is doing a great job recruiting him, but it won't be known if it's good enough for quite a while. Lucier-South plans to commit on National Signing Day as of right now. With so much time left in his recruitment, he has just two of his alotted five official visits scheduled, one of them being to Ann Arbor on October 11 against Penn State. He also has arranged plans to visit South Bend to watch Notre Dame against Stanford the week before that.
Lucier-South will be at The Opening in Oregon which begins this weekend and once that's over, he'll spend the rest of his summer prepping for his senior season.