That cracking sound you hear is the destruction of the NCAA's control over collegiate athletics as we have known it. The centralized power of this body to dictate rules and standards to universities is being eroded rapidly. On Friday, U.S. District Judge, Claudia Wilken, dealt a major blow to the NCAA and the concept of amateurism by ruling in an antitrust case that the rules barring athletes the ability to profit from their own likeness, names, and images were an "unreasonable restraint of trade." This blockbuster ruling follows by a day the decision of the NCAA to grant the strongest collegiate conferences the right to create their own rules. The impact of these two events will change collegiate athletics forever.
There has been a dramatic widening of the gap between colleges that run professional level football and basketball programs and those who don't. These superpower schools have new stadiums and arenas that have luxury boxes, expanded capacity, and sponsorship. These buildings provide amazing levels of revenue. The level of alumni support and donations for the superpowers has reached epic levels. Texas A&M raised $450 million to revamp their 88,000 seat stadium so that it seats 109,000 fans. They will have 100 new luxury boxes, with prices ranging from $1 million to $15 million to simply reserve. The University of Texas has its own Longhorn television network. The SEC is unveiling its new network, joining the Big 12 and Pac 12. The marketing and memorabilia revenues for the superpowers are huge. These superpowers know they have the ability to cut their own media deals without NCAA aid.
The ability for these schools to create their own systems means that they will have a competitive advantage in attracting blue chip athletes. They can create "attendance incentives" granting their athletes an additional $5,000. They can pay additional stipends for need. They can fully guarantee scholarships for an incoming athlete instead of the year-by-year right of a college to terminate. We may see bidding wars for elite prospects. The ruling by Judge Wilken in the Ed O'Bannon case means that players can be paid any time their name and license are used in a marketing program. The NCAA may no longer be in a position to make deals that don't include player compensation. What does "amateurism" mean in this environment?
The great majority of colleges lose money in their athletic programs. When coach June Jones suggested that lower revenue schools play football in the spring to be competitive, many pundits scoffed. They are not scoffing now. The lower-revenue universities will have to devise new strategies. If they decide to compete in sports like basketball and football, it may drain funds from other sports.
This shift poses a threat to sports like college wrestling and threatens the continuance of money-losing sports. The role of the university in providing the most students with the most opportunity to learn from sports is threatened. The NCAA decision creates major conflicts with Title IX. Women's sports could be especially hard hit.
The NCAA has been way too slow in reacting to the realities of expanding television revenue, expanding marketing, and new playing facilities. It was unrealistic to think that college players scraping by on scholarship would be content to struggle with their economics. Certainly a scholarship carries major economic value; but many of the athletes are only playing college sports as a way station to professional sports. The playing field of college athletic economics has not been level for quite some time. A new day has come.