NCAA Players' Cut of Mammoth TV Deal Still the Same: Zero Percent
On the website of the National College Players Association -- a California-based organization dedicated to protecting college athletes from abuses by their schools and the NCAA -- is a summary of a plan to use the television-rights revenue from the men's basketball tournament to better fund athletic scholarships and programs threatened by Title IX.
It's called "The $6 Billion Plan'' -- and as of last week, the title was obsolete. "You'll be seeing 'The $11 Billion Plan' soon,'' NCPA president and former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma said, laughing. "Probably, though, it'll look the same as the old plan.''
Understandable, since the same problems that inspired the birth of the organization (in 2001, as the Collegiate Athletes Coalition) exist now, with the annual payout to the NCAA rising from $545 million to $771 million -- as law professors, economic experts and college-athlete advocates don't hesitate to point out, none of it goes to the players. Or, at best, nothing close to what is fair goes to them.
"It's the most egregious thing I've ever seen done,'' said Sonny Vaccaro, the former shoe-company guru who in the last three years has turned his focus toward the gap between the fortune the NCAA earns and what it withholds from the players who generate it.
"They're doing these new contracts with a clear conscience of never doing anything for the kids playing the game,'' Vaccaro continued. "It's not just mean-spirited. It's just plain wrong ... Please tell me the difference between Wall Street and the CEOs and the NCAA and its members -- they do what they want in the secrecy and solace of their organization, they thrust it on the public at their whim, and they do nothing for the well-being of the people.''
Vaccaro is one of the advisers on the most visible current tilts against the NCAA: the federal class-action lawsuit, headlined by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and filed last July, accusing the NCAA of profiting from the use of former players' images -- but not sharing those profits with the players themselves -- in video games and vintage game highlights. The O'Bannon suit actually blends two class-action suits, his and that of former Minnesota football player Sam Keller, whose action last year concerns several other ex-college football players.
A federal judge in California in February rejected the NCAA's attempt to dismiss the suit, and since then even more former players have added their names to the suit -- including players from both the Texas Western and Kentucky teams in the 1966 NCAA championship game, the 1979 Indiana State team that played Michigan State in the title game, and the early-90s Michigan teams that featured the "Fab Five.''
It was ironic, Vaccaro noted, that the contract with CBS and Turner (a renegotiation of the previous contract, extending it through 2024), was announced as the O'Bannon suit was still on the docket. Both happenings continue to bring light to an issue that has been on the table for decades, as long as the tournament has made enormous sums for the NCAA, said Vaccaro.
(Since his recent public crusade against the revenue-producing college sports system began -- one in which he guided current Milwaukee Bucks rookie star Brandon Jennings to spend his first year after high school in Europe rather than at an NCAA school -- Vaccaro has freely admitted his part in that system, as a grass-roots marketer and developer with Nike, Reebok and Adidas. It was on his watch that shoe companies began to outfit college teams, with the money going to the school and coaches but not the players. "In the world that I lived in,'' he said, "I would've been a CEO in my industry, the shoe business, and I don't deny it.'')
Few who support the athletes in this dispute have confidence that anything short of a victory in court or a drastic change in the law will open the pipeline of money from the NCAA to the players. "It will change if the O'Bannon (pictured, right) case wins, and other kids win suits,'' Vaccaro said. "It will only win in a suit -- not by a vote, not by the (college) presidents; it will only change by law ... The O'Bannon case is going to shake the world. It's going to change the face of what amateur athletics is.''
Huma, the head of the NCPA, shares that belief: "The NCAA will not do anything unilaterally. They will only move when forced to,'' he said, basing that on his nine years of trying to do exactly that in conversations, hearings and proposals before local and state legislators and Congress. Some 1,400 athletes at 150 campuses are involved in his organization now, he said, largely because of word-of-mouth stories spread about players being prevented from buying groceries, being steered toward unwanted majors or away from their preferred ones based on how they fit the team's practice schedule, and having scholarships taken away after being injured.
His focus is at an even more fundamental level than the O'Bannon case's concentration on money denied to players after they've finished playing: scholarships for current players, he said, don't even cover basic living expenses, and are too easily rescinded arbitrarily -- and they do not include adequate medical insurance, if any at all. The NCAA only recently required athletes to have medical coverage, Huma said, thanks largely to the NCPA's efforts -- but it and the schools are not required to actually provide it. Nor are coaches required to even tell athletes what they are entitled to have.
With all of that on the table, Huma said, as worthy as the O'Bannon case is, it's more on the back burner. What really frustrates him, he said, is seeing more public debate over a college-football playoff system than over the gap, at many colleges, of $6,000 a year per player between living expenses and allowable athletic grants. Or, worse, the fact that there is no requirement and, thus, no incentive, for schools to tell recruits and athletes the truth about what they can and cannot receive, or to be transparent to anybody looking into their practices.
"Just scratch below the surface,'' he said, "and there is a whole universe of issues at the foundation of what we do.''
Vaccaro -- whose latest lecture stop took him last week to a symposium by the College Sports Research Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill -- also sees the public distracted by issues far less germane to what he sees as the fundamental unfairness of the NCAA's actions.
"The number [of teams] in the tournament are irrelevant. They camouflaged their intent by playing up the 96; meanwhile, they brought cable into it, another player,'' he said. "The only number that's important is the $10.8 billion.''
It certainly is important to Huma and his organization, which is pushing for new legislation in California and Georgia to make the NCAA's actions match up with their words, and is also in constant communication with members of Congress for change in federal laws.
Plus, that $10.8-billion figure is important for the accuracy of its own website. "We're gonna be tweaking the numbers,'' Huma said. "We're in the middle of fine-tuning our message.''