NCAA Worries About 'Bidding War' for Athletes

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Paying college players from broadcast revenue would start a bidding war among school recruiters and shift the focus of intercollegiate athletics away from education, the Southeastern Conference's associate commissioner Greg Sankey testified Tuesday in the NCAA antitrust trial.
     Sankey said he could imagine all kinds of scenarios where school recruiters and "overzealous fans" or boosters could make promises of cash payments and other benefits to prospective players to influence their college choice.
     "What we would have done is introduce the compensation discussion right into recruiting. The education piece of that discussion in recruiting would be minimized.
     A bidding war ensues quite quickly. That's not the focus of what we do now," Sankey said.
     In a landmark antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, a class of student athletes led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon claims they should be allowed to share in the television broadcast revenue for their names, images and likenesses.
     On Tuesday, NCAA lawyers argued that a change in the rule to allow student athletes to profit from name, image and likeness use by networks would open the door to third parties, such as boosters, to make promises to recruits that would distract them from the real purpose of college.
     Sankey said: "I don't assume that whatever promises or payments being suggested would be directly attached to name, image and likeness," but "it shifts from a broader consideration of what university to attend to one that becomes more economically based."
     He added: "I'm concerned about how they understand exactly what they would be asked to do relative to this name, image and likeness idea. Who is going to be advising them?"
     NCAA attorneys have insisted that paying players will make Division One sports less competitive, as schools with more money to pump into bigger programs will snap up the best players, giving schools with smaller programs less of a chance at winning.
     Plaintiffs' attorney Sathya Gosselin, with Hausfeld LLP, pointed out on cross-examination that schools already use financially driven incentives to influence college recruits, and that schools in big conferences already dominate on the field.
     "You agree there is significant disparity in competition," Gosselin said.
     "No," Sankey replied. "Thirty-two conferences have automatic qualification to tournaments. We've had success at the competitive level, but other people have access points."
     "The SEC [Southeastern Conference] does not dominate competition on the field?" Gosselin asked.
     "No. We're successful competitively. I don't know what dominate is meant to mean. Others are successful as well. We've won some championships. There have been championships we've not won as well," Sankey said.
     Gosselin made sure that U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken was aware of the profitability of a conference like Southeastern, pointing out that it made $314 million last year, double its revenue in 2008.
     Another recurring NCAA argument is the presumed waning of fan interest in college sports if players are paid, as fans will no longer consider those players to be amateurs.
     As the last witness of the day, the NCAA brought in John Dennis, whose survey, "Public Opinion About Paying Student-Athletes," found 69 percent of respondents were opposed to paying student athletes, and would watch and attend fewer college football and men's basketball games if students were paid.
     "The public believes that paying student athletes would have a negative impact on the balance of competition in schools," Dennis said.