Some thoughts as the O’Bannon vs. the NCAA case opens

As the Ed O’Bannon case against the NCAA opens in California, it appears the outcome is more a game-changer than a foundation-shaker. That’s probably a good thing for all involved.

While there was a period of time when the potential for huge damages hung over the heads of the NCAA and its partners, the goal of the plaintiffs has shifted to determining if players have been getting cheated out of profits garnered from TV broadcasts, video games and more over the years and then figure out how to fix that.

This is the No. 1 issue that the NCAA could have and should have gotten out in front of without truly changing its model to a drastic degree (despite what they say). Yet it also seems like the one it is least interested in addressing aside from actual direct salaries for players. It also happens to be the best possible compromise for both sides, not to mention the many millions who sit on the sidelines either as fans, media, sponsors or entrepreneurs.

I think all of these parties should be considered not from from a legal standpoint but a practical one. That’s because without the latter there is nothing for the two parties in court to argue about.

The NCAA does not seem to see a difference between paying players a salary and allowing them to profit off their image (which for this purpose means appearance, reputation, etc.), and that could be a fatal mistake, perhaps more because of other cases it faces than this one.

While the O’Bannon case has been characterized as many things, it has boiled down to the area where the NCAA could most easily call for a truce and get out with a relatively similar model to the one it has already been maintaining for decades.

There have been those who call O’Bannon bitter for not being able to make it in the NBA and thus needing to hit the NCAA to make up the shortfall he might feel his talents deserved. Those people are missing the point. In fact, they zoomed right by it. O’Bannon, a college star who never did much in the pros, is the perfect example of the relatively small percentage of athletes who do genuinely end up getting a raw deal in this whole college arrangement. His example is also noteworthy because he would not have been such a big deal in college (maintaining name recognition more than a decade later) if he hadn’t played at and delivered a national championship to a school that is so steeped in a tradition of winning.

I maintain the great majority of players end up getting more out of their scholarship (when considering the education, the experience and the various other benefits) than they are really worth to the school, and many of those who outperform the value of the scholarship are still made whole by multimillion-dollar contracts signed at the age of 19-22, contracts (with not only their pro team but also endorsers) that are in many cases more valuable than they would have been without the opportunity to perform on a college platform that has often been developed over many years and affords much greater effect than any available alternative that exists or could reasonably expect to be formed.

It’s been said before, but it’s not the NCAA’s fault the NFL hasn’t created a minor league or that the NBA’s domestic minor league doesn’t pay enough to make it an attractive option for those who don’t want to go to college or even avoid going overseas. It’s also not the NCAA’s fault the public isn’t interested in attending or watching the D-League or it’s NFL alternative, but that’s something that should not go overlooked.

Now, a victory by O’Bannon would change things in some significant ways for college athletics. There is no denying that. But without having to worry about taking a huge financial hit up front, the schools that make up the NCAA would have the opportunity to redraw budgets to account for distributing more of their revenue directly to those teams that generate it, and that time should allow for figuring out ways to move around their money without taking away too many opportunities for athletes in other sports.

In their rush to rail against the current college athletics model, many ignore the fact just about all of the money college teams bring in is spent by the athletics departments on athletics teams and therefore its athletes. However, anyone who has toured a college facility recently knows there are plenty of places they could be just a bit less lavish to save money to spend on the lacrosse and track teams without significantly hurting the experience of the football and basketball players.

Are the players better off with a few more bucks in their pockets than they are having the school spend lavishly on them in the form of facilities, training, food, tutors and publicity? I’m sure that would vary some by case, but I’m not going to make that overall argument either way because it probably won’t affect the outcome.

Of course, NCAA schools can probably open the door for athletes to market themselves without losing much of anything they bring in now. Let the market bear what it will for them while continuing to refine their experience with better food, better training, better health care and enough money to cover the full cost of education (all things that seem to be on the way already). That makes whole those who are notable enough in college to be able to argue they should get significantly more than they already do without taking anything away from the 85th man on the roster. It provides some insurance to players such O’Bannon or maybe even a Michael Sam or a Troy Davis or Colt McCoy or Troy Smith who can dominate in college but might not have the skill set to make it big in the pros. Guys like those can and do profit off their likeness for years to come after college is over, but it stands to reason there is more to be made while the iron is hottest.

This whole debate is really important because I do get the impression from fans on social media, our message board and beyond that their appetite for supporting college sports would be diminished if the players became true employees who were bid on by teams openly like players in the NFL, MLB, etc. This is a debate that has been going on since scholarships first became offered and regulated many decades ago, and truth be told compensation is compensation in my book. If athletes were paid a salary instead of a scholarship, it would not make much difference to me. I do believe they are being compensated for a service, and so in that sense are employees (even though I think the arguments applied in the Northwestern case don’t fit that definition as compared to other examples of college students’ experiences, that’s a legal debate, not a common sense one), but apparently that is not a consensus. And if there is a consensus out there indicating the market for college sports will dry up if the players become true employees, even if the overall experience is basically the same in its essence but looks different from the outside, then the idea of change should not be taken lightly. Whether it is the players or the colleges risking the slaying of the golden goose doesn’t matter. In many cases, practicality overrides morality, and this could be one.

Of course, the possibility exists that even letting players do endorsements could turn off the general public, but that has not happened with Olympic sports. Does the general public care that Olympic athletes are not paid, per se, for competing, or does that even register in their perception of what is going on? Maybe the Olympics, like long-famous colleges, simply trump all from a marketing standpoint thanks to their tradition and the same would be true in college athletics regardless of how the athletes are further paid. I’m not sure it’s worth finding out or necessary, but maybe there won’t be a choice.

Examining Ohio State Football’s National Title Claims

With the uniquely college football topic of claimed national titles in the news recently, I got to thinking about whether or not Ohio State football could or should give itself credit for more than the seven it lists in its official records. The result was this story at BuckeyeSports.com (below), but it is worth noting some of Ohio State’s best arguments for a potential national title fall outside this “To claim or not to claim?” debate because no one, legitimate or not, has tagged them No. 1.

Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes

I guess it just goes to show in the Bowl Alliance/BCS era, the problem shifted from being overlooked to more often simply left out.  Continue reading

Observations from the Ohio State football advanced stat preview

Bill Connelly’s previews at SBNation using Football Outsiders numbers are an annual must-read for college football fans, and he finished up the Big Ten today with Ohio State.

Ohio State lines up against Indiana last November
Ohio State lines up against Indiana last November

Of course, I recommend as strongly as possible you read the whole thing, here are a few things I gleaned from my reading of the piece. Some are surprising while others probably are not so much:  Continue reading

Big Ten West spring football review

After a bit of a delay for some NFL draft coverage, we have finally wrapped up our spring review for Big Ten football at BuckeyeSports.com. Big Ten logo

Earlier we took a look at the East. Now comes the West, which should have an interesting race.

Iowa and Minnesota both showed great improvement last season while Nebraska and Wisconsin have questions but remain contenders.  Continue reading

Ohio State safeties embracing new roles

Even before the defense hit rock bottom last season, many Ohio State fans were clamoring for a return to the press defenses of the late 1990s that were the first to earn the nickname, “Silver Bullets.”

Such a switch is easier said than done, however, in this day and age of spread offenses that were much more rare back then and not as diverse as they are now.  Continue reading

Can new Ohio State QB commit beat recent odds?

Joey Burrow is on track to buck one trend but Ohio State fans will be happier to see him turn another of its head in the future.

Burrow, a four-star prospect from Athens, verbally committed Tuesday and is set to become (in February) the first Southeast Ohio signee since Drew Basil of Chillicothe in 2010 and the 10th Buckeye recruit from the region going back to Buster Howe in the class of 1988.

But maybe more daunting is the recent quarterback legacy he is signing up for. Continue reading

Ohio State 2014 NFL Draft recap

Ohio State had six players chosen in the 2014 NFL Draft, including a pair of first-rounders after only having a total of one first-rounder in the previous four drafts combined.

Ryan Shazier talks to reporters in Columbus
Ryan Shazier talks to reporters in Columbus

The draft marks the end of the line for the 2009 recruiting class, which became the second Ohio State recruiting class since 1999 to produce zero first-round picks, joining the ’08 class. Both of those were rated top five classes by Scout.com. The ’09 class, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation, can brag of more overall draft picks (six — Reid Fragel, Carlos Hyde, Corey Linsley, Jack Mewhort, Jonathan Newsome and John Simon) than the ’08 class (Mike Adams, DeVier Posey, Terrelle Pryor), which was ranked No. 4.

Newsome, a four-star recruit from Cleveland Glenville, transferred to Ball State and as near as I can tell is only the second player to sign with Ohio State since 1987, transfer out and still get drafted. Brandon Underwood is the other. Underwood signed in 2004 and finished his career as a Cincinnati Bearcat. That is out of 75 players.

The 2010 and ’11 classes are already assured of avoiding the fate of the two groups that immediately preceded them as they were represented respectively this year by Bradley Roby and Ryan Shazier.

Here’s a rundown of all of the picks:  Continue reading

Weekend in review: Talkin’ draft, draft draft

The second weekend in May was no ordinary one as the NFL draft brought nearly nonstop news beginning Thursday night.

The biggest news in Ohio was, of course, the Browns’ decision to draft Johnny Manziel in the first round on Thursday night. Manziel is a lightning rod who has excited the fanbase, but he probably won’t be handed the starting job by new head coach Mike Pettine. The Texas tornado will arrive in town to find a potential hometown hero in Cleveland’s own Brian Hoyer, who energized the fanbase himself for a few briefs weeks last season before blowing out his knee. What does the former Cleveland St. Ignatius Wildcat have to say? “Bring it on.”  Continue reading

Ohio State NFL draft first round notes

After a two-year drought, Ohio State had two first-round picks in the 2014 NFL draft as Ryan Shazier went 15th to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bradley Roby went 31st to the Denver Broncos. The last time two Buckeyes were taken in the first round was 2009, when Malcolm Jenkins went to the Saints and Beanie Wells went to the Cardinals.

Shazier is 21st Buckeye picked by Steelers and the fifth in the past five years.

Ryan Shazier talks to reporters in Columbus
Ryan Shazier talks to reporters in Columbus

Last: Mike Adams, OT, 24th pick of the second round (56th overall). Other recents: DE Cameron Heyward, DE Thaddeus Gibson (who moved to LB) and DE Doug Worthington. Four of the five play on the defensive side of the ball, where former Ohio State star halfback Dick LeBeau is the long-time coordinator. First: Jack Dugger, end, 1st pick of second round in 1945.

Shazier is the 48th linebacker from Ohio State chosen in the common era (1967-present). First: Nick Roman, Bengals, 10th round 1970.

He is the ninth Ohio State linebacker picked in the first round. First: Rick Middleton, who went 13th overall to the Saints. The Broncos picked Randy Gradishar one pick later.

Shazier is the first player drafted from Jim Tressel’s last recruiting class, signed in 2011 and ranked No. 3 in the nation. He was the 13th Tressel Ohio State signee to be picked in the first round. Continue reading

Big Ten East spring football review

I am going around the league recapping spring football around the Big Ten for BuckeyeSports.com. Big Ten logo

While we’re still rolling out the reviews from the new West, the East is complete.

The race for the first East division crown figures to be interesting as Michigan looks to pick up the pieces from a lost season, Michigan State tries to maintain its defensive strength while growing on offense and Penn State adjusts to another coaching change and the continued effects of scholarship reductions.

Can someone play spoiler out of the group of Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana? The Hoosiers seem like the biggest possibility.  Continue reading