July 21, 2013
It is the season of litigation in college athletics.
Ed O'Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, has become something of a household name as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that says players should get a share of rights fees from television and when their images are used.
Former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington has gone to court because, his lawyer says, the NCAA didn't adopt strict enough regulations and because Arrington wasn't aware of the possible long-term effects of concussions.
Requests have been made in court to make both cases class-action suits, potentially involving thousands of players.
I have said many times I believe players ought to be better taken care of financially. The major football schools have pushed and continue to push for a stipend for players. That's a good thing. Players getting rich playing college football would not be a good thing.
Is it really about helping athletes or is it self-serving? Did O'Bannon and friends recruit some relatively unknown current players to join the suit for the good of the athletes or for themselves?
I don't know the answers to those questions, but I certainly have my suspicions.
For what it's worth, my opinions on each issue:
With coaches making millions of dollars a year and tens of millions of dollars being spent on facilities, athletes deserve more than they get. But O'Bannon and others want to look at college athletics like they look at the NFL, and the two aren't alike.
A college athletics program is far more than football and basketball teams. Competing and winning means just as much to soccer players, golfers, tennis players, baseball players, volleyball players and runners as it does to the young men who play on the big stage on autumn Saturdays. Those other sports don't bring in money, but that's not why they are there.
I would like to see scholarships be allowed to cover the full cost of attendance, as many academic scholarships do. That would mean, on average, a couple of thousand dollars per scholarship. I thought Steve Spurrier's suggestion of some $3,600 a year was a good one. I would also like to see a fund created that perhaps would give scholarship athletes a set amount of money once they have earned their degrees.
At Southeastern Conference Media Days, commissioner Mike Slive chided the NCAA for not acting on SEC proposals that could put more money in the pockets of athletes. He also revealed that he'd asked the NCAA to take the lead in examining what rules could be changed in various sports to reduce the number of concussions.
But if you really want to see the end of college football as we know it, make it a professional pursuit in which the quarterback gets wealthy and the second-team offensive guard gets nothing. Soon, you would have nothing more than a second-rate professional football league.
As for the concussions, there is no question that some football players in college and in the NFL have suffered lifelong consequences. And that's truly unfortunate. Should they be helped? I believe they should.
But the notion that administrators, coaches and trainers don't care flies in the face of everything I've witnessed.
According to the lawsuit, an NCAA survey of trainers showed almost half of them had put players showing signs of concussions back in games. Really? Putting it bluntly, I don't believe it.
I can tell you how it works at Auburn. Team doctor Michael Goodlett makes that call, and his decision can't be challenged by the head coach, the trainer or anyone else. If a player is showing any sign of a concussion, he doesn't play. Period. End of story. He doesn't even practice. It's the same way at every big-time school of which I'm aware.
The indisputable facts: Football is a violent game. Every player who gets to the level of playing in college, at any level, is aware of that. People get hurt. New rules might help, but unless the game is to become something unrecognizable, no new rules can change that.
We'll see what happens as the lawsuits move forward. It's unlikely any of these things will actually end up in a trial. At some point there will be a settlement.
And the most significant outcome will be that lawyers will make lots of money.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: