NCAA Athletes to Start Fall Season as Amateurs After All

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College athletes will remain amateurs -- for now.

An order set to take effect Saturday that would allow athletes to be paid was put on hold by a federal appeals court in San Francisco, meaning the athletes’ status is likely to remain unchanged when National Collegiate Athletic Association sports resume this fall.

The NCAA is challenging a judge’s ruling from last year that it violated antitrust laws by preventing schools from sharing broadcast and licensing revenue with football and men’s basketball players.

“It’s a heavyweight fight and far from over,” said David Ridpath, a sports administration professor at Ohio University and president-elect of a collection of university faculty members who have called for changes in college athletics for more than 15 years. “It is delaying the inevitable as the initial ruling is not changed, just delayed.”

The courtroom match dates back to 2009, when former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon sued the NCAA for licensing his name and likeness in video games and television broadcasts. The NCAA and its five richest leagues -- the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences -- are guaranteed more than $31 billion in current broadcast contracts.

The NCAA contends athletes are amateurs and that while many receive scholarships to attend their schools, paying them would undermine the purpose and popularity of college sports.

NCAA ‘Cartel’

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken on Aug. 8 ruled largely in favor of O’Bannon, calling the NCAA a cartel that limits what schools can offer athletes. The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco Friday delayed that ruling from taking effect while it considers the NCAA’s arguments, “without expressing a view as to either party’s likelihood of success on the merits.”

Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, said in a statement that the organization was pleased with the order.

“As a result, the NCAA will not be implementing any changes to its rules in response to the district court’s injunction at this time,” Remy said. “We continue to await the Ninth Circuit’s final ruling.”

Sathya S. Gosselin, an attorney for O’Bannon, didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment on Friday’s order.

Last year the 126 schools in college football’s top division spent $2 billion on their football programs, according to data schools submit annually to the U.S. Department of Education. The 346 Division I basketball schools spent $1.1 billion on men’s basketball.

School Support

Yet only the richest of athletic programs are self-sufficient, meaning most rely on institutional support from their state, school or student funds. The University of Colorado athletic department, for example, a member of the Pac-12, received $12.2 million from the school to meet its $64.3 million in expenses in fiscal 2014. The University of Kansas athletic department received $2.6 million.

The O’Bannon lawsuit isn’t the only threat to the current college sports model. The NCAA also faces an antitrust lawsuit brought by labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler and an attempt by Northwestern University football players to create the first college athletes’ union.

In the face of potentially forced changes, the NCAA altered its governance structure, giving more voice to students and creating new benefits for athletes. It also gave its richest athletic programs and conferences partial autonomy to make some of their own rules regarding what they provide athletes. In January that group of 65 voted to allow schools the option of offering scholarships that meet the cost of attendance, a difference of about $2,000 to $6,000 depending on the institution.

Other measures passed by the autonomous group include legislation that prevents athletes from losing scholarships because of poor on-field performance, and a proposal that lets students borrow against future earnings for insurance.

The case is O’Bannon v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 4:09-cv-03329, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland.)

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