“Approximately 1 percent of NCAA men’s basketball players and 2 percent of NCAA football players are drafted by NBA or NFL teams,” stated the 2001 report, basing its figures on a review of the previous 10 years, “and just being drafted is no assurance of a successful professional career.” Warning that the odds against professional athletic success are “astronomically high,” the Knight Commission counsels college athletes to avoid a “rude surprise” and to stick to regular studies.
This is sound advice as far as it goes, but it’s a bromide that pinches off discussion.
Hausfeld read to me from page 390: The college player cannot sell his own feet (the coach does that) nor can he sell his own name (the college will do that). (He is now 89.) Was that part of the plaintiffs’ strategy for the O’Bannon trial? “I’d rather the NCAA lawyers not fully understand the strategy,” he said.
This is the plantation mentality resurrected and blessed by today’s campus executives. He put the spiny book away and previewed what lies ahead. “We know our clients are foreclosed: neither the NCAA nor its members will permit them to participate in any of that licensing revenue.
“I want to give something back.” Call it redemption, he told me. The outcome of the 1984 Regents decision validated an antitrust approach for O’Bannon, King argues, as well as for Joseph Agnew in his continuing case against the one-year scholarship rule.
Lawyers for Sam Keller—a former quarterback for the University of Nebraska who is featured in video games—are pursuing a parallel “right of publicity” track based on the First Amendment.
The debates and commissions about reforming college sports nibble around the edges—trying to reduce corruption, to prevent the “contamination” of athletes by lucre, and to maintain at least a pretense of concern for academic integrity.
Everything stands on the implicit presumption that preserving amateurism is necessary for the well-being of college athletes.
Stifling thought, the universities, in league with the NCAA, have failed their own primary mission by providing an empty, cynical education on college sports.
The most basic reform would treat the students as what they are—adults, with rights and reason of their own—and grant them a meaningful voice in NCAA deliberations.