Experts Spar as NCAA Antitrust Trial Wraps

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – As the NCAA antitrust trial heads into its final days, attorneys for both sides presented dueling assessments of the effect of paying student athletes for appearing on TV in competition.
     Continuing his testimony from Tuesday was survey expert Jon Dennis, whose said his survey of 4,255 people revealed that nearly 7 out of 10 opposed paying student athletes beyond the cost of attending college.
     “Of that 69 percent opposed to paying student athletes, a majority of them feel very strongly about this,” Dennis said Wednesday. “One of the striking things for me is it’s a small fraction that feels strongly about their opinion in terms of paying student athletes. The individuals who favor paying student athletes feel less strongly in their intensity compared to those who oppose.”
     Dennis was brought in by the NCAA to try to show U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken that fan interest will wane if college athletes are no longer unpaid amateurs.
     Headed by former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon, a class of student athletes is suing the governing body for college athletics for the right to a share in the television broadcast revenue for their names, images and likenesses.
     Dennis’ survey did not ask respondents how they felt about student athletes being compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness, but was, as he put it, a very deliberately created question. It states roughly: “Some people are in favor of paying student athletes on men’s college football or basketball teams. Some are opposed to paying student athletes on men’s college football or basketball teams. Which of these statements comes closer to your opinion?”
     Dennis said he didn’t bother to ask about name, image and likeness because it was a complex legal question that would just confuse people.
     “It would be a very complicated matter to include questions around name, image and likeness rights,” Dennis said. “It appears to be very tricky, disputed legal territory filled with jargon, difficult to follow. There’s elusive concepts in here that would be difficult to explain to a respondent.”
     But, he added, “I did look at the data one more time and did a what-if analysis and it turns out the results don’t change at all. The actual favor and oppose rates only changed by one tenth of 1 percent.”
     Nor did Dennis ask about the concept of deferred compensation, in which money would be put into a trust fund that student athletes can access after graduation. “It didn’t need to be in there anyway,” Dennis said.
     To rebut Dennis, plaintiff attorneys brought in Hal Poret, a survey researcher and senior vice president of ORC International. Poret blasted Dennis’ survey, particularly the questions he didn’t ask.
     Poret said respondents may have been confused by the question of payment, taking it to mean illicit or illegitimate payments, not structured compensation for name and image licensing.
     “The reason it’s more difficult is exactly the reason why it’s so necessary,” he said. “Consumers are not used to thinking about issues of name, image and likeness, but that’s exactly why it’s so problematic. You can’t ask a question that is so broad that it covers all sorts of things people might have different opinions on. The phrase ‘paying money to student athletes’ does not convey the idea of paying for name, image and likeness; it conveys the idea of students receiving improper, illicit payments.”
     Poret added that respondents may have meant that they were opposed to paying student athletes salaries, but would have no problem with the idea of a trust fund.
     Poret also slammed Dennis on the viewership impact portion of his survey, where he gave respondents three scenarios: student athletes were paid $20,000, $50,000 or $200,000. The results showed that 38 percent were less likely to watch and attend games if the players were paid $20,000. The numbers jumped to 47 percent if they were paid $50,000 and 53 percent if paid $200,000.
     “When payment levels increase so does the resistance from fans,” Dennis testified.
     Poret wasn’t buying the question or the answers.
     “You’re asking people to predict their future behavior and people are notoriously bad at predicting their future behavior. It is so easy for people to click a button that says I’ll be less likely to do something,” he said. “In real life, to change your behavior is a difficult thing.”
     Poret said fans were hugely resistant to the idea of corporate sponsors naming college football bowls and claimed in polls that they would stop watching, but such threats were not borne out in real life.
     On cross-examination, NCAA attorney Carolyn Luedtke showed Poret a recent Alabama Today reader poll taken from its website. The poll asked, “If college athletes were paid, would you lose interest?”
     Before Wilken shut down the Luedtke’s attempt to question him on that poll, Poret drew guffaws from the courtroom audience as he dismissed it as an “embarrassing, junk science question.”

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