Don’t understand college sports? You’re not alone. After a summer of rule changes, settlements, and a landmark court decision, people who work in college sports may not understand college sports.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled Aug. 8 that players in the Football Bowl Subdivision and Division I men’s basketball are entitled to at least $5,000 a year for rights to their names, images, and likenesses.
The NCAA is appealing the ruling and has long argued that athletes are students, not employees or professionals, and play for the love of the game. But its own love of money has made that philosophy irrelevant, even unjust, according to Wilken. NCAA organizations make millions from television contracts, video games, and merchandise featuring players—but they say compensation above scholarships undermines the student half of “student-athlete.”
The highly publicized antitrust lawsuit, launched by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, prompted many voluntary changes from the NCAA even before the ruling. The NCAA Board of Directors voted Aug. 7 to give the five biggest football conferences more autonomy over what benefits they give to players beyond scholarships. One of the first things on the agenda of a powerful new voting body will be providing stipends to athletes.
But with votes and appeals yet to take place, no one really knows what the NCAA will look like in coming years. The new rules generally apply only to men’s football and basketball, and that could lead to more lawsuits. Title IX regulations, for example, say female athletes are supposed to receive equal opportunities. What about Olympic sports? Smaller conferences or financially strapped schools may drop some sports altogether.
The NCAA brings criticism on itself, though, as stadiums become shrines, locker rooms become spas, and more schools enter the financial arms race to attract players. While select programs like Duke basketball and Notre Dame football succeed both in the classroom and on the field, winning often outweighs integrity. “The concept of college football no longer has any bearing on the quality of the person, the quality of students,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “Universities are selling themselves out.”
Wilken has thrown the NCAA’s legal language into confusion. But because the NCAA didn’t always practice what it preached about amateurism and integrity, it may have lost the credibility to preach.
He ran out of money. Seven accompanying vehicles broke down, with three totaled. He had to repeat 100 miles. Drew Burnett faced many obstacles in his attempt to run the Appalachian Trail in record time for a Ugandan orphanage, where he and his family plan to go live next year (see “Run for the children,” June 28).
He didn’t break any records, and he almost didn’t finish. The crew even ran out of money in West Virginia and discovered it needed $10,000 in 24 hours. But after notifying his prayer team of the situation, he received $10,000 in 12 hours, without asking. “It’s hard not to trust Him after that,” Burnett told me.
Sure enough, Burnett met his wife and son Aug. 13 for the final hike up Springer Mountain in Georgia. He completed all 2,180 miles of the trail in 57 days. “Proud” to have experienced God’s power in his weakness, he told me, he hopes to raise $100,000 for the orphanage by sharing the journey with church groups and through a documentary. His story? “Failure in the eyes of the world in order to bring God glory.” —A.B.