Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2021 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 4 of 47 MAY 2021 5 T o say it's been a tough few weeks for the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert, would be as grand a disinformation statement as suggesting his organization puts its players ahead of its profits. For starters, the NCAA earned a thorough undressing from the media and many of its member athletes cry- ing foul over the inequities between how the cushy men's basketball tour- nament was staged in Indianapolis, compared to the second-rate setup and treatment the women's tourney received in San Antonio. Optics further deteriorated late in the women's tournament when the NCAA had to issue an apology for omitting the underdog Arizona Wildcats from its Final Four promotional video. Once those tourney follies passed, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) took its shots at the NCAA, offering some harsh and pointed criticism into how the orga- nization refuses to share even a small piece of its massive profits pie with the student-athletes who bake it each year. This became a bipartisan show of support from the high court last month during oral arguments in a lawsuit claiming the NCAA is violat- ing antitrust law by limiting finan- cial support for its student-athletes to only books, tuition and board. Justice Elena Kagan accused the NCAA of price-fixing by not allow- ing its student-athletes to pull any profit from their labor. Justice Brett Kavanaugh called the NCAA's monopolistic business prac- tices "disturbing" and added that it appears as if schools are conspiring "to pay no salaries to the workers who are making the schools billions of dollars." Even the typically reserved Justice Clarence Thomas chimed in during the oral arguments by questioning why student-athletes get paid with books and NCAA coaches get paid with bucks — big bucks. "It strikes me as odd [college] coaches' salaries have ballooned," Thomas lamented. A recent story by Yahoo! Finance outlined how in 2018, the single highest-paid public employee in 29 states was the state university's foot- ball coach. To Notre Dame's credit, the uni- versity has consistently been an out- spoken supporter of some form of compensation for its student-athletes beyond books and a bed. In late February, Notre Dame direc- tor of athletics Jack Swarbrick said that his school would not participate in the re-launch of the EA Sports college football video game because it uses players' likenesses as the cornerstone of its popularity, without sharing a dime with the stars of its product. "Notre Dame will not," Swarbrick said, "participate in the game until such time as rules have been final- ized governing participation of our student-athletes being allowed to benefit directly from allowing their name, image and performance his- tory to be used in the game." In the same vein, perhaps the best example of a Notre Dame student- athlete deserving something more than nothing comes from April 2018 when former Irish basketball star Arike Ogunbowale became the talk of the entire sports world during the NCAA Tournament with her spec- tacular game-winning baskets and national championship heroics that re-aired over and over. Regrettably, Ogunbowale wasn't allowed to financially gain from her three weeks of fame through en- dorsement deals and other appear- ance opportunities while the NCAA, television networks and online out- lets cashed in. Also consider the millions of dol- lars that former Irish football play- ers Manti Te'o, Jaylon Smith, Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Ian Book and so many others generated during their time in school. "At the end of all this," Swarbrick added, "we'll get some resolution and student-athletes will have name, image and likeness rights." As the NCAA President, Emmert makes about $2.7 million a year, but he remains reluctant to financially fight for the players who pay him. "Student-athletes need to be stu- dents, not employees of the universi- ties," Emmert explained. The devil remains in the details, and that's why this snail vs. tortoise race drags on while the players wait for a resolution that was supposed to come about a year ago. Should all college athletes get paid, even those from non-revenue sports? What's the compensatory starting point for a player or program, and would that vary by school? Does a hot-shot quarterback get paid the same as a backup punter, and who makes those decisions? School presidents? Athletic directors? Coaches? Judges? "I worry a lot about judges get- ting into the business of deciding how amateur sports should be run," opined Justice Stephen Breyer, ex- pressing a fear of doing more harm than good to college athletics through judicial overreach. Like a favorite pillow, the NCAA has tightly clutched to its business model since 1906 and it is in no hurry to ditch it now. But the games, rules and profits changed — and a 100-year-old business model became grossly outdated — when college conferences signed multi-billion dol- lar deals with television networks. And because of that, it's time for the NCAA to put players first, and for the SCOTUS to make certain it does. ✦ Pay For Play? The Fight Finds The High Court UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Although NCAA president Mark Emmert remains reluctant to financially fight for the players who pay him about $2.7 million per year, the decision may go above him to the U.S. Supreme Court. PHOTO COURTESY NCAA

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