Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Updates in Jeremy Bloom Case: A Colorado state appellate court will hear arguments in the case of Colorado football player and professional skier Jeremy Bloom. Bloom is challenging the NCAA's rules, which prevent a collegiate player from accepting money from endorsements, even if the sponsorships are for a different sport than the athlete participates in as a collegiate. Professional skiers rely on endorsements to pay for their training, which is expensive and cannot be covered by stipends or competition winnings.
NCAA rules allow players to earn a salary as a professional athlete in a different sport, but not to accept endorsement money. The NCAA has stated that Bloom is allowed to keep prize money and any stipends from the U.S. ski team. The distinction seemingly creates an incredible inequity. Why should a player be allowed to accept money for playing a sport, but not any endorsements in that sport?
The reason given by the NCAA for the distinction makes sense: it does not want athletes receiving endorsements for a "different" sport that in reality are compensation for his or her performance in the college sport. For example, imagine a star college basketball player that also plays rookie league minor league baseball. The player could receive an endorsement from a soft-drink maker under the guise of his role as a professional baseball player. But, in reality, the company is capitalizing not on the player's status as an unknown baseball player, but on his stardom in the college sport. The potential for abuse in endorsements is much greater than for the salary or competition prize money received in a sport.
The Bloom camp has submitted an affidavit from former professional football player Tim Dwight, who claims the NCAA allowed him to receive endorsement money in football while running track as an amateur. Jim Smittkamp, one of Bloom's attorneys, said, "The NCAA specifically granted Tim Dwight an exemption and reinstated him as an amateur to run track and found that the monies he received were related to his football status. That is exactly what Jeremy has argued from the beginning." The NCAA, however, has distinguished the cases, stating that Dwight applied for reinstatement as an amateur, and that once reinstatement was granted, his endorsements ceased.
It does seem, however, that special exceptions could be made on a case-by-case basis. The chances of abuse in this case are exceedingly low. Bloom has two endorsements, both from manufacturers of ski-related equipment. The companies would be sponsoring Bloom, even if he did not play football for Colorado. In fact, while Bloom's story has generated some publicity, the companies probably prefer that Bloom not play, so that he does not run the risk of injury on the football field.
For the NCAA, there seems to be little practical reason to keep Bloom from playing football. Unlike many of his fellow athletes, he plays for the love of the sport and not for publicity that will lead to a professional contract. This is the very purpose of amateur sports, and the NCAA should not be blinded by black-and-white rules that draw permanent distinctions. Cases such as this are rare, and it would not be burdensome for the NCAA to consider each on a case-by-case basis.
You can read more on the Bloom case here, here, and in my article focusing on paying college athletes.