Anti-trust law has found the NCAA

Stacy Revere

Are the NCAA and its member institutions colluding to keep athletes from getting full value for their talents in an open market?

This week we saw yet another anti-trust lawsuit filed (this one in Minnesota) seeking damages (and changes) due to an alleged agreement between the major football and basketball conferences, their members, and the NCAA, to cap the compensation talented college football and basketball players can receive for participation on their college team.

If I were a talented musician attending college and playing in the band or orchestra, perhaps majoring in music, I would be allowed to earn as much money performing and recording my music as the market for my music would allow.  Even if I were getting a full ride on a music scholarship.

A genius techie with an income stream from iPhone apps could also be on scholarship at a university while studying electrical engineering or computer science. It is even possible a number of colleges would compete to have him choose their engineering school.  If so, there would be no limit has to the amount the college could promise above the cost of attendance.  He could pick any school he wanted in a market where the terms were subject only to the agreements between the college and the student.  When you think about it, that is how every college student enters college.  Except scholarship athletes.

If, instead of a talented musician, I am an ordinary high school grad.  I have a 4.00 GPA and an SAT of 1800.  I am optimistic I will get accepted at a good school, but probably not Harvard or Yale.  I apply to 5-6 schools and get accepted at four.  I need help paying for them, so I also apply for financial aid. Each school, along with my Pell Grant and work study and student loan packages, tells me how much help I will get, if any.  At this point I can begin a negotiation process.  I do not care what the actual cost for each college will be, only what I will have to pay.  Duke may be $60K per year and Tech may be $25K, but the financial aid package may make Duke cheaper.  It's possible for me to get a part time job on campus and actually have money for movies and concerts.

This is very different from the situation with scholarship athletes.  No matter which school he or she attends, the aid package cannot exceed a predetermined set of fees (tuition, books, fees, & board, plus a fixed amount for food).  It does not matter if it's Duke or Tech, the same things are paid for no matter the actual cost.  The amount leftover for the athlete to pay is the same at both places.  And, believe me, there is always something left over.  But, what is worse, the athlete cannot get a part time job to cover those other expenses (the NCAA has just proposed a $2000 supplement for some types of expenses).

So here is where the lawsuits come in.  Let's say I am, in addition to that 4.00 GPA and sterling SAT score, a star QB with 4000 yards passing in each of my final two years in high school.  Alabama wants me.  Duke wants me.  Tech also made an offer.  If the NCAA loses the lawsuit, I will be able to go to Coach Saban and negotiate a better deal than the one offered by Duke.  I might even get enough money to buy a car and still have movie and concert money.

It is pretty clear the schools with a ton of money (like Bama, Texas, Ohio State, etc.) will be able to offer more than Duke, who is already having to cover that $60K cost of attendance.  I can well imagine Tech will also be looking very much like Duke in the amount we can offer.  Would Vad Lee have even considered Tech if UNC was able to offer him an extra $10K to stay home and play for the Tarheels?  In that environment we will rarely see 4* or 5* players on campus.

If the NCAA is barred from limiting the amount an athlete could get, could they interfere with the negotiation process?  What would happen to most of the recruiting rules we have today?  They are there to maintain the appearance that teams cannot get a competitive advantage during the recruiting process.  If Alabama could have a million dollar payroll, who cares if they visit kids only during predetermined open periods.  Or, which car dealership wants to loan a new BMW to me for each of my four years.  Or which apartment house agrees to give my girlfriend a free studio apartment while I'm on the team.  It's all part of the deal.  Maybe my mom would like a redo on her kitchen or bathroom.  Its all part of determining how much compensation I could negotiate for myself.  Oh, and maybe I know a lawyer who could help me work out the best deal.

How would we fare in that world?

If you knew Ga Tech would be relegated to the basement of FBS football into the foreseeable future, which would you prefer, the basement, FCS or lower, or no football and basketball?  It is a legitimate question if our finances remain as they are now.  This will make negative recruiting look like a very minor issue.  I think I might go the route of MIT and drop big time money sports.  Keep the golf team and varsity track.  Maybe some others.  Put sports on the back burner and be an academic institution. It hurts my head to think about it, but that may be what's in our future.

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