Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Saturday, January 01, 2011
Was Suspended Ohio State's QB Terrelle Pryor in the Right or Wrong?

Stefanie Loh of the Patriot News examines the five game suspension of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and several other players for selling their championship gear and pocketing the profits - a violation of NCAA rules but, from the players' standpoint, a way of obtaining the fruits of their otherwise unpaid labor.

She interviews Geoff and me for the story. Here's an excerpt:
All season, the waters of college football have been muddied by stories of student-athletes breaking rules by trying to make money or receive benefits that, per NCAA rules, they are not eligible for due to their amateur status.

But as a 2009 story showed, a bona fide football star can be a multi-million dollar asset to his university. The University of Florida’s football revenues totaled $132 million in Tim Tebow’s sophomore and junior seasons combined. In exchange, the only monetary compensation the quarterback received was his scholarship worth $13,160 per year, and a minimal monthly stipend.

* * *

Patriot News: Is there any feasible way we can find a happy medium and compensate the student-athletes while not creating dissension?

Rapp: You could allow for a fairly modest stipend. Like what grad students make teaching introductory English in exchange for $20,000 a year. Then, if you’re Terrelle, you have something in your pocket, and it reduces temptation. The real problem is that most universities couldn’t afford to give their student-athletes $10-20,000. For most universities, it would mean the end of their programs.

McCann: How would other athletes be compensated? And how would Title IX work into it? If you’re only paying the players from programs that make money — at most schools that is men’s basketball and football — other players would say “I should be paid too” and the school would say, “You’re not contributing enough to the market.” It would certainly complicate college sports, and I imagine some schools would have to cut programs to pay for this.
To read the rest, click here.

I went on to say that another response -- though not a complete solution -- would be for the NFL, NBA, and WNBA, and their respective players' associations, to collectively-bargain a lowering of their age/experience eligibility restrictions. Here are the current rules:
  • The NBA requires that U.S. players be 19-years-old and one-year removed from high school.
  • The WNBA requires that U.S. players be four-years removed from high school or at least 22-years old.
  • The NFL requires that players be three-years removed from high school.
Those rules are applied in all cases and make no exceptions for a young player's extraordinary talents (i.e., there is no Lebron exception) or his/her financial hardships.

Lowered eligibility would mean that college football and basketball players who would be drafted if they were eligible could then leave college (or not go to college) and pursue those leagues and thereby earn income for their labor. These are the same players who, because they are the best, presumably generate the most fan interest and are thus the most deserving of gaining compensation for their services. To be sure, some of these players would prefer to attend/remain in college, develop their games, and obtain a college education - the choice, though, would be theirs.

None of this is to say that other college student-athletes don't deserve to be paid for their athletic achievements, but if only some can be paid, it would seem that players who are 1) good enough to turn pro and 2) would turn pro but can't because of arbitrary age limits should be first in line.


How about the granting of student loans to athletes to assist with living expenses?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/01/2011 6:58 PM  

I don't think any student-athletes should be "paid," but how about providing FBS football players and Division I basketball players with the following additional economic benefits:

"At least a four-year athletic scholarship that covers the full annual cost of college attendance, which may be taken away only for failing to meet minimum academic requirements, engaging in misconduct, or voluntarily choosing not to continue playing a sport, and tuition funding for a fifth or sixth year of college education if necessary to complete a bachelor's degree, provided the student-athlete is in good academic standing when the student's intercollegiate athletics ability is exhausted. Providing these additional benefits likely would increase the college graduation rates of Division I FBS football and men's basketball student-athletes, whose efforts generate most intercollegiate athletics revenues.

The creation of a postgraduate scholarship program administered by the NCAA and funded by a designated percentage of the total net revenues generated by intercollegiate football and men's basketball, and perhaps other sports, including the sales of merchandise incorporating aspects of student-athletes' persona, such as team jerseys with numbers identifying individual players. Because the collective effort of all participating student-athletes, including those who are less prominent or talented, is necessary to produce these sports and contribute to an individual player's commercial popularity, all of the athletes should have the opportunity to qualify for educational benefits funded by the commercial exploitation of publicity rights.

There is justification for providing greater educational benefits to student-athletes playing net revenue generating sports such as Division I men's basketball and FBS football. One legal scholar observes that student-athletes who participate in major college basketball and football 'are doing something special for their schools' by providing the university with a vital link to alumni, bringing together diverse constitu-encies, and creating contagious euphoria. He asserts that '[t]hose who provide the occasions for collective euphoria are making a unique contribution to the [university] community and deserve to be recognized for it.'"

See Mitten, Musselman, and Burton, TARGETED REFORM OF COMMERCIALIZED INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS, 47 San Diego L. Rev. 779 (2010)

Anonymous Matt Mitten -- 1/02/2011 1:27 AM  

The post-graduate scholarship program seems to be a great idea. It would benefit all student-athletes interested in obtaining a graduate degree and it would help funnel money to them in a way that seems more in line with being a college student.

It's true that the mutually beneficial relationship between a high-profile student-athlete and their school can generate substantial revenue for the school, but the student-athlete continues to benefit from the relationship in some key ways long after the school stops benefiting. A student-athlete on full scholarship does get a free college degree, and the earning potential over the course of a career with a college degree is far greater than without. The student-athlete continues to receive that benefit for the length of their working life, while the university stops receiving the benefit of the player once his eligibility is exhausted. If a student-athlete is at a school that generates a lot of revenue, then it's likely that they receive some of the best strength and speed training in the world at no cost for four or five years, and they probably wouldn't become an attractive pro prospect without it. The same goes for the skill instruction they receive from their coaches. Again, the high-profile players who become professionals benefit from that long after the school benefits from the student-athlete's performance. It's hard to quantify the value of those benefits, and it would be different in different sports.

There may be some inequities, but it's just not as cut and dry as saying that the student-athletes only get school, room, and board and the school gets millions of dollars.

Plus, there are some benefits that can't be quantified for high-profile athletes. For better or worse, they are often celebrities on campus and live a fun life. That has to count for something. Just ask Tebow. Despite the supposed unfairness of the situation, he had the chance to leave for the NFL and make all that money for himself, and he decided to stay at Florida.

Anonymous Zak Brown -- 1/03/2011 10:40 PM  

Why not just let the players hire agents and negotiate endorsement deals?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/07/2011 4:22 PM  

Post a Comment