By Ken Reed

According to the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice (IIPSJ), social justice is best defined as (1) inclusion of everyone in the full benefits of society and (2) empowerment of people to participate fully in the economic, social, and cultural life of the country.

That definition is the antithesis of of how the NCAA treats college athletes in this country.

Former UCLA basketball star, Ed O’Bannon has been fighting for social and economic justice in college sports for several years. With the help of well-known social reform lawyer, Michael Hausfeld, and other former NCAA athletes, O’Bannon filed suit against the NCAA, EA Sports, and the Collegiate Licensing Company in 2009. The suit has had numerous starts and stops since, however, the latest hearing in the case, scheduled for today, might be the biggest yet. Not only could the suit be allowed to move forward, it might soon gain class action status.

To be sure, NCAA administrators are sweating bullets today. And justifiably so. Big-time college sports are a huge moneymaker, one that the athletes that create the product aren’t allowed to participate in.

We’re talking about real marketplace value here, too.

According to a study led by Ellen Staurowsky, a professor at Drexel University, the fair market value of a football player at the University of Texas for the 2011-12 school year would be $567,922 annually. The calculation was based on an NFL-like shared revenue system. The value of a “full-ride” athletic scholarship at Texas was $21,090 a year. As such, the fair market value denied (the difference between the fair market value and the value of the scholarship) was $546,832.

The Texas football team generated $103.8 million in revenue. The cost of scholarships was $1.8 million (pretty cheap workforce, huh?). That leaves a lot of money left to blow on lavish facilities and for boosting the salaries of NCAA execs, coaches, administrators, and team chefs in the athletes’ dorms.

While big-time athletic directors and coaches talk about their “student-athletes” and the importance of their educational values, the reality is athletic department policies and decisions are increasingly being made based on entertainment business objectives. We’re left with a college sports system that — at the highest levels especially — is lacking in integrity and filled with hypocrisy.

“College athletes are citizens and their rights are being deprived by the NCAA in a way that’s basically collusion,” says civil rights historian and author Taylor Branch. “The NCAA system is not only unjust, it’s unstable.”

The O’Bannon lawsuit could be the catalyst that changes the entire NCAA system.

“June 20 is the most important day in amateur athletics history,” according to former sports marketing executive and chief NCAA critic Sonny Vaccaro. “If we get to court [with the O’Bannon case], the American public will see the hypocrisy. They will see that very few people over the years controlled thousands of kids and millions and millions of dollars and no one knows who they are, or what they do.”

It’s time the they found out.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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