To pay, or not to pay: That is the question — not for Hamlet, but the NCAA. When former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon saw his computer-generated image in a video game several years ago, the answer was clear enough to him: Pay me. This month, a federal judge agreed, declaring that the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s prohibition on direct payments to athletes represents a violation of anti-trust law.
Starting in 2016, colleges will be allowed to provide so-called student-athletes with direct benefits including personal trust fund payments. The NCAA can limit the total. But according to the court, the cap on payments cannot be lower than $5,000 a year. Those sounds you hear are cash registers opening in college recruiting offices across America.
We’re all familiar with the perils of a “slippery slope” that leads incrementally, but inevitably, to a place we’d rather not be. The decision in the O’Bannon case represents not so much a step onto that slope as a leap — a good, old-fashioned, Pete Rose-style, head-first-into-third-base belly flop. The ultimate destination isn’t home plate, but a date with the Internal Revenue Service.
Everyone readily concedes that college sports is big business. Bloomberg estimates annual industry revenue from tickets, television, and merchandising at over $15 billion. But as analysts and lawyers consider the court decision, their emphasis remains on the students, the sports programs, and the dying notion of amateur status.
Lost in the chatter is this: If universities are going to compensate athletes for supporting multi-million dollar sports programs, the idea that these organizations are tax-exempt nonprofits becomes absurd.
You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month
Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.
- High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
- Convenient access across all of your devices
- Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
- Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
- Less than 25¢ a week