- Programming note: Watch "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Friday, June 25 on NBC Sports Bay Area after "Giants Postgame Live" at approximately 10:30 p.m.
Lawsuit after lawsuit, the recalcitrant NCAA is being dragged toward its overdue comeuppance. Inch by inch, college athletes are getting closer to obtaining richly deserved rewards long denied.
The Supreme Court of the United States this week took a giant step toward righting one of the most blatant wrongs in college sports. In a unanimous (9-0) decision, the court essentially spanked the NCAA for its decades of exploitation that violated antitrust laws. In a matter of years, if not months, the vaults containing billions in revenue – previously accessed only by conferences and coaches – will be shared with the “student-athletes” who generate it.
“It put amateurism on life support, basically,” says ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, a guest on “Race in America: A Candid Conversation” this week.
Praise the heavens, for a semblance of fairness is nigh. The young men – mostly Black – who risk life and limb to play high-profile college sports are close enough to smell the cash. They’re not getting paid outright, not yet, but they’ll be allowed to profit off themselves.
“We’re going to see more lawsuits, and the NCAA is going to lose those lawsuits,” Bilas says. “The smartest thing for them to do . . . is tell the schools and the conferences all you have to do to be a college athlete is be enrolled in school and be a full-time student in good standing. The rest us up to you.
“What a school gives to any non-athlete student is not an issue. There’s nobody out there policing that. We’re not worried about it. We shouldn’t be worried about it with athletes, either.”
Bilas has been at the forefront of his crusade for nearly four decades, dating back to the 1980s, when he was a four-year starter at Duke. He is not alone in his advocacy. One of his many available dance partners on this issue sits is in the California State Senate and was a fellow guest on the Race in America episode.
Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) has 15 cities within her district, and of them are Oakland and Berkeley. That should provide a clue about her principles and ideals. If there is an “ism,” she’s fighting it. If there is an irrational or unfair law, she’s opposing it.
Sen. Skinner also is the lead author of Senate Bill 206, known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, the purpose of which is to allow, for the first time, student-athletes to receive compensation for use of their name, image and likeness.
“California was the first state to challenge, legally, through passing a law, the fact that the NCAA forces a student-athlete to give up ownership of their name, image and likeness rights,” Skinner says.
“You have every state in the country passing NIL legislation in order to remain competitive,” Bilas says.
Skinner cited the star appeal of former UConn women’s basketball star Diana Taurasi, now a 17-year veteran with the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, as a textbook example of the exploitation.
“She’s not a student-athlete at the moment, but her jerseys and all of her images and hats are the No. 1 sellers, still, at the UConn bookstore,” Skinner says. “They never had to ask her permission, and they’re not sharing any of the profits with her.
“If that were me, they’d have to ask my permission. And I would have negotiated some take on their income. Student-athletes are the only people, the only students . . . all Americans have that right, except the student-athlete.”
Taurasi is getting ripped off in a big way. She gets no proceeds and, to illustrate her enduring popularity, one of her “shirseys” sells for $37.95 on the school’s website, while that of another former UConn star, Sue Bird, can be had for a mere $24.95.
Taurasi, however, is lined up to get the last laugh – along with many others. When California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act in 2019, she attended the ceremony, along with LeBron James and Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA star and an early litigant on this issue.
The bill initially was to be implemented in January 2023, but as the issue has heated up – and gotten a boost from the Supreme Court – Skinner and co-author Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) have amended the bill, moving up to timeline to September 2021.
If there is money to be made – through TV contracts, apparel, event tickets, video games and more – those who attract the fans ought to get a share. The sooner, the better.
“They need to change their rules to allow athletes full economic rights, just like every other student and just like every other person,” Bilas says.
“Because the only person in our society that’s limited in what they can earn or accept in a multibillion-dollar business is a college athlete. And it’s not right.”
By taking their case to the Supreme Court, those running the NCAA gambled on their clout, which often was enough to fend off challenges. Not this time. Don’t weep for them.