OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Colleges are so turned off by the idea of paying student athletes for licensing their images that they will leave Division 1 sports in droves, NCAA president Mark Emmert testified Thursday in the antitrust trial pitting college football and basketball players against the governing body of collegiate sports.
“They believe in an amateurism model and don’t want to participate in a professional model,” Emmert said, adding that the second reason is “sheer cost.”
Emmert claimed that schools barely make any money off of sports, and what revenue they do bring in goes toward keeping athletic programs afloat.
“The emphasis is always placed on the top line revenue produced by intercollegiate athletics. The financial realities for most universities is they subsidize their athletic programs pretty significantly and they are constantly worried about ways to support their athletic departments,” Emmert said.
Onlookers in the courtroom scoffed as Emmert speculated that any school remaining in the NCAA would be forced to cut scholarships and redirect funding from other sports to football and men’s basketball. “Going to students and asking for a tuition increase would be exceedingly unpopular,” Emmert testified. “Their only alternative would be reallocation.”
NCAA attorney Glenn Pomerantz asked Emmert if conferences would still play together for national championships if some allowed schools to pay players for the use of their names, images and likenesses and others didn’t.
Emmert answered no, as some schools would pay the best high school athletes directly to attend their schools, which would be uncompetitive.
“Direct payment is different from saying you’re going to get to be in this locker room or stadium. Member schools would find that an uncompetitive situation and would not want to be part of a championship driven by that.”
He added, “The schools in D1- all but a handful of them, 25 or fewer today operate at a loss. So if you took away all that revenue they would not be able to operate as they do now.”
The focus of Emmert’s testimony was on the NCAA’s “core value” of amateurism, meaning college athletes must be students and not paid professionals. Paying players anything beyond the cost of attending college would be inconsistent with the principle established when the NCAA was formed in 1905, he said.
In 2009, the NCAA was sued by a class of college football and men’s basketball players led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. The class claims student athletes should share in the revenues flowing into universities and big conferences from television broadcasts.
Emmert’s highly anticipated testimony before U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken Thursday drew a packed courtroom. O’Bannon himself sat at the plaintiff’s table, and Emmert walked over to shake his hand before taking the stand.
Plaintiff attorney Bill Isaacson hammered away at the commercial exploitation of student athletes during cross-examination, asking Emmert if broadcast companies made money off of using “symbols of a student athlete’s identity.”
Emmert replied that under NCAA rules, broadcast companies can use athletes’ names, images and likenesses “to promote broadcasts of games.”
“To promote a game broadcast on TV from which the TV companies do get financial gain,” Isaacson said.
I’m sure you’re well aware that the NCAA rule for the use of the name, image and likeness of a student-athlete is solely for the purpose of promoting that event,” Emmert insisted.
“But when the broadcast company uses it solely for that, even they’re doing it solely for financial gain,” Isaacson asked, to which Emmert replied, “You have to ask someone who is an expert in the broadcast industry.”
Emmert also claimed ignorance on a number of other topics, including virtually every memo, speech and email exchange between NCAA executives that Isaacson showed him.
Pomerantz objected to what he called a “parade of documents.”
Many of those documents were from former NCAA presidents and officials, including former senior police adviser Wally Renfro, whom Emmert in his testimony called a “provocateur.”
The emails and memos expressed concern over the commercialization of college athletics and the commercial exploitation of student-athletes. Isaacson showed Emmert one email Renfro sent him about a month after he became NCAA president in 2010, which stated: ” … the notion that athletes are students is the great hypocrisy of college athletics.”
“He was making a statement that this was the notion some people had, as to what he thought were the beliefs of some people. We did not spend a great deal of time talking about that memo,” Emmert said.
“It didn’t strike you as needing to do any follow up?” Isaacson asked.
“No,” Emmert said, drawing snorts from the courtroom audience.
Isaacson asked if Emmert had any thoughts about Renfro’s question of what Emmert planned to do about it.
“I treated that as a rhetorical question,” Emmert said.
Emmert’s testimony was to continue Friday. Next week, NCAA lawyers are slated to call the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference Greg Sankey and the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Jim Delaney.
This seemed to satisfy Judge Wilken, who said: “I have some questions about the conferences, who regulates them and how the money comes in and out of them.”
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