Yesterday, the NFL settled with a group of former players who had sued them for using their identities without permission. What's more, the NFL had an insane-seeming clause barring those same players from using their own identifies:
Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea and five other retired players filed the federal class-action lawsuit in Minneapolis in 2009 accusing the NFL of blatantly exploiting retired players' identities in films, highlight reels and memorabilia to market the league's "glory days."
"The retired players who created these glory days, however, have gone almost completely uncompensated for this use of their identities," the plaintiffs said. "Notably, while exploiting the identities of retired players for commercial gain, the NFL prohibits retired NFL players from using their own identities as players to promote themselves commercially."
Instead of facing down a court case, the NFL settled to the tune of 42 million dollars. Because they were going to lose, hard. Yesterday was a good day for Ed O'Bannon.
O'Bannon, of course, is the former UCLA basketball player irritated enough that he was in an EA Sports game to launch a class-action suit against the NCAA for almost the same issue the NFL just settled on, down to the insane-seeming cause. In the NCAA, those athletes sign away their publicity rights in perpetuity as a condition of the scholarship they get. But as anyone who's followed discussion about a coach's multimillion dollar buyout clause knows, just because it's in a contract doesn't mean its enforceable. Thus the pending class action.
O'Bannon and company have shifted tack from the relatively paltry amount of money provided by video game publishers to the Big Kahuna, amending their complaint to target game broadcasts. The NCAA's last response is to prevent the class from being certified thanks to a precedent they earned in a different breathtakingly cynical fight:
The NCAA relies heavily on its victory in a case regarding scholarship limits. Walk-on football players filed a class action against the NCAA arguing that in the absence of the 85 scholarship limit, they would have received full athletic scholarships. The court in that case refused to certify the class, because each player would have to prove individually that he would have received a football scholarship.
Yesterday, a bunch of motions in that case were made public, and everyone seized on this Jim Delany statement to laugh at the most hollow threat not made by a Jong-Il in the past 50 years:
Rather, it has been my longstanding belief that The Big Ten's schools would forgo the revenues in those circumstances and instead take steps to downsize the scope, breadth, and activity of their athletic programs. Several alternatives to a "pay for play" model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial aid model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten's philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student-athletes.
Stupid or deceitful? I think the latter given Jim Delany's extremely malleable opinion on playoffs, but then again he is the man who gave us "Leaders and Legends" and wrote an open letter about how the SEC is poopy pants in 2007, thus dooming us to ALL THE SEC since. We may never know.
This is an organization that feels a university education is a sufficient quid pro quo for work that earns various people seven-figure salaries to play glorified secretary, and then fights lawsuits that would open up those university educations to more people because that might impinge on those seven figure salaries.
And this, of course, is a man who has spent the last twenty years thinking about nothing but money. He created a television network for money. He added Nebraska for money. He split Michigan and Ohio State in the vague hope of getting more money if they played twice. He added Rutgers and Maryland for money despite the fact that 11 of the 12 fanbases in the Big Ten would rather boil themselves in oil than play those teams in anything. Once he is presented with the idea he might have to share some of his money, he threatens to take the whole damn thing out of the system, into another system that will be exposed to the same legal precedent that prevents you from outrageously sharecropping athletes. The answer is probably "both." As Michael of Braves and Birds put it on twitter:
Delany's declaration is one step removed from threatening to attack Fort Sumter. "Our whole economic system is built on exploitation, so if you require that we pay our labor, we'll secede!" - Delany as Jefferson Davis.
As it becomes increasingly clear that the value of a university degree is coming unhinged from how much it costs, athletic departments continue to pile up more and more money that has to go somewhere. Increasingly, that is to the Jim Delanys of the world:
Michigan Budget, 2006
- Revenue of 68 million dollars
- 21 million spent on "salaries, wages, and benefits"
- 11 million spent on "financial aid to students"
Michigan Budget, 2013
- Revenue of 130 million dollars (a 91% increase)
- 44 million spent on "salaries, wages, and benefits" (a 109% increase)
- 18 million spent on "financial aid to students" (a 64% increase)
Despite the increase in athlete outlays, really there is no increased value there for the folks actually making the money. Instead the athletic department adds sports (lacrosse) and the University continues its unsustainable tuition spiral. The net for the athlete is the degree, then and now. When Texas A&M offered Bo a million dollars and he was reduced to tears because he had to choose between securing his family and staying at Michigan, that was maybe plausible. Today? Bitch, please.
According to a recent report in USA Today Sports, athletic directors at FBS schools are paid an average of $515,000 annually, an increase of more than 14 percent since … 2011. At the low end of the scale, Louisiana-Monroe AD Bobby Staub took home $109,923; at the high end, Louisville's Tom Jurich pocketed $1,401,915. Over the last two years, the number of athletic directors making $1 million or more has jumped from six to nine, while the number making $800,000 or more has risen from nine to 15. None of this is entirely new. Back in 2010 -- that is, when unemployment was at 9.9 percent and the nation was still reeling from the worst financial crisis since 1929 -- at least 10 public schools gave their athletic directors pay raises of $75,000 or more.
But you feel that a university education is the same bonus it's always been. You feel that it's fair that every extra dollar the players on the field make is destined for someplace other than their pockets. I feel that if every athletic director in the country disappeared tomorrow, no one outside their families would notice, and that if you took the best player off of every BCS football team the country would collapse into riots and chaos by Thursday. Useless vampires of college sports, I hope the courts annihilate your business model so thoroughly you end up shining Denard Robinson's shoes.
"People who have talent and bring something significant to the party expect to be paid fairly. I have no problem stepping up and paying talent for what they deserve."