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O' Bannon Case Will Change College Sports, Not Necessarily For The Better

This opinion piece from about the Ed O' Bannon case continues the notion of college sports as a plantation system, where the athletes (workers) are the only ones who don't get paid. In some ways this is true, but in some other ways it's pretty wide of the mark, not least of all because anyone who is paying attention gets a tremendous compensation in an education which increases earning potential dramatically.

There's no doubt that there is an appetite for (at least) college football and men's college basketball. There is also no doubt that the elite coaches make huge salaries and the more pedestrian guys do just fine.

However, the notion that letting market forces run things will guarantee that athletes get paid is misleading, because while some athletes will get paid, most won't.

Assume for a moment that the case completely overturns the NCAA system and overlook the fact, for the moment, that private organizations are allowed great latitude in their freedom of assembly. What happens?

The first thing that happens is that the movement towards another level of the NCAA, or possibly separate from the NCAA, accelerates. The SEC, the Big Ten, the PAC-12, the ACC and the Big 12 will certainly outbid the other conferences for talent and will soon be accused of becoming a cartel, much as the NCAA is now.

The second thing that will happen is that it will become much more expensive to produce college sports and as a result, many will be cut in order to focus on revenue.

This will be much worse at St. John's and Ball State than it will be at Mississippi and Oregon. Sports like track and field will be gone. Sports with large rosters and expenses (other than football) will be threatened.

This means that thousands of young people will either have to pay for their education or drop out.

People will howl, but what can you do? What is the fair market price for, say, Andrew Wiggins? His NBA contract would be for millions. Last year's first pick, Anthony Davis, gets nearly $4 million per year.

Keep in mind that virtually every athletic department in the country loses money already.

The idea that the NCAA is a plantation system is also flawed in two other key respects: first, anyone who spends four years in college and doesn't get a degree is a fool. As the late Phil Henderson once pointed out, you can (and should) certainly exploit back.

You get a huge benefit for your time at university. Moreover, you start life debt-free. Ask someone with heavy student loans if they'd trade places.

And second, there are viable, paying alternatives immediately out of high school. You can do an apprenticeship, essentially, in the D-League, or you can play in several American professional leagues below the NBA level. You can also play overseas.

Is there a need for reform? Yes, and it should start with either putting education front and center or just giving up. Here's a thought: rather than simply using market value, why not tie any compensation to academic improvement and performance?