Reforming the NCAA
The NCAA’s national headquarters is across the street from my office, and some lawyers at the NCAA teach as adjunct professors at my school. Notwithstanding that relationship, I think that the organization desperately needs reform. Taylor Branch wrote a piece in the Atlantic not that long ago attacking the NCAA as corrupt and calling for the payment of student athletes (at least in revenue-generating sports like football and men’s basketball), and I generally agree with his reasoning.
Non-profit monopolies or credential associations pose a tough regulatory problem. The International Olympic Committee, FIFA, the NCAA, and (it must be said) the ABA all tend to be unresponsive or worse. Of course, this is because they have no competitors and face no significant government oversight. So what should be done? Get Congress involved? Unlikely to happen. Pursue litigation? It’s been tried before and hasn’t worked. There is a case pending on the NCAA’s use of the publicity rights of former players (the O’Bannon litigation), but I’m not sure that will be successful.
Professional sports provide an answer–unions. That solution can be messy sometimes (the NBA lockout, for example), but it does lead to a more equitable sharing of revenue. Forming a union of college athletes, though, faces all sorts of hurdles. Is there a shortcut?
Sure there is. Suppose that on the eve of the BCS Championship Game, one of the teams announces that they won’t play unless they get a fair share of the TV money. The NCAA and the relevant TV network might just declare a forfeit, but would they really want to give up millions of dollars? I think that they might well cave and establish a precedent that the athletes deserve some of the money.
Now this kind of strike would not be easy. Most of a team would have to agree and risk expulsion from school and the loss of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play for the national championship. They would be called all sorts of nasty names by fans and alumni. On the other hand, Curt Flood went through something like that to create free agency for professional athletes. Who will be the Curt Flood of college sports?