NCAA Chief Grilled Over Athletes' Privileges Other Than Money
OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Student athletes are already in a class of their own on college campuses, attorneys for plaintiffs in the NCAA class-action antitrust trial argued Friday. Plaintiffs attorney Bill Isaacson questioned NCAA President Mark Emmert on the luxury accommodations colleges provide to student athletes, asking how that squared with his opposition to the "monetization" that Emmert claimed would come from paying them for the use of their names and images on television.
Emmert has said that even a trust fund set up for players that they could access after graduation would be too much of a monetization, and would set college athletes apart from the general student population.
Isaacson asked Emmert about Auburn's Donahue Hall, a "$51 million suite-style residence hall in which the entire football lives," and Oklahoma's "$75 million Headington Hall with a game room and 75-seat movie theater."
"You had concerns about students being in a separate class if revenue was shared. Does this put them in a different class?" Isaacson asked.
"Residence halls - they vary radically. What you're describing are residence halls that are extremely attractive. And the students who live in them are very privileged," Emmert said.
"If the football team lives together in the most grandiose residence hall on campus ... have we created a different class for those football players from all the students that aren't in that dorm?" Isaacson asked.
"I think I answered that," Emmert replied.
Isaacson said, "We'll let the record decide."
Friday was the second day of Emmert's testimony in what has been called the most important class action against the NCAA. Led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, college athletes are suing the governing body for college sports for the right to a share in the television broadcast revenue for their names, images and likenesses.
The NCAA has tried show that its core principle of amateurism that prohibits college players from being paid is not anti-competitive.
After Emmert's seven hours of testimony before U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany took the stand.
Delany, a former college basketball player at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, was adamant that the primary job of a student-athlete is to get an education.
"The opportunity to pursue a degree has always been woven in that experience. What it means to be an amateur is the opportunity to purse a degree while engaging in college athletics. For me the idea has always been integrated. It's always been about the educational part," Delany said.
Delany said he fiercely opposes athletes' being allowed to share in television broadcast revenues as compensation for their names and images being shown in televised games, and said fan interest would wane if student athletes were paid.
"I think the following that has developed over decades has come to serve a common understanding that these individuals represent their institution. They are not professional. That separates us from the NBA and the NFL," Delany said.
"So whatever we tried to do is reinforce the structure, a system that rewards and encourages education and to avoid as far as possible commercial elements that might confuse us with the NBA or NFL."
NCAA attorney Luis Li, with Munger, Tolles and Olson, asked Delany if anyone in the Big Ten "ever advocated paying student athletes for appear in televised games."
"No," Delany replied. "These games are owned by the institution and the notion of paying athletes for participation in these games is foreign to the notion of amateurism."
Li asked if the Big Ten would pay college players for their names, images and likenesses.
"No," Delany replied. "It invades an area of understanding that intercollegiate athletics is different form professional athletics and how the participant ought to be about education and support for that purpose."
Li asked if the Big Ten would play schools in other conferences if they paid their players.
"If your teams were not paying student athletes for their NILs [names, images and likenesses] on televised games, would you want your teams playing teams in the Pac-12 if they were paying their players?" Li asked.
"No. The very basis of games is a sense of sportsmanship or fairness. If one team is buying players and other is not, you won't get the same sense of competitive balance," Delany said.
"If Pac-12 choose to do it, and the Big Ten chooses not to do it then would the Big Ten refuse to play the Rose Bowl with the Pac-12? Wilken asked.
Delany said it was unlikely that the Rose Bowl would ever be canceled, especially if one conference paid its players a few cents and another didn't.
"I would have a hard time thinking anyone would cancel the Rose Bowl over a dime," he said, noting that it wasn't off the table "if there was a significant difference in how players were recruited and retained."
Both Emmert and Delany said they would support increased scholarships to college athletes to cover the full cost of attending school beyond tuition, board and books. "I believe the full cost of education is the appropriate way for us to go forward in the future and that should provide the full cost of going to any institution in this country," Delany said.
He added that schools need to reconsider the time athletes spend on their sports, and allow students the personal time to pursue educational opportunities off the field or basketball court, citing "voluntary" summer workouts as a big problem.
"We probably ought to just put a lock on the gym," he said. "The opportunity to go junior year abroad and do internship has got to be created."
The NCAA is slowly working its way through a lengthy list of witnesses. Expected early next week is the continuation of Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir's testimony and Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sanky.
Wilken, who has already started asking about closing arguments, said, "I hope you'll be efficient with your witnesses and make sure you're not spending time on things that might be nice but not terribly relevant."
NCAA attorneys said they were certain they could get through all of their witnesses by next Friday.