On Thursday NCAA President Mark Emmert said in court that converting college sports teams from being played by amateurs to being played by paid athletes would cause many colleges to drop sports entirely.
Emmert was called as a witness to an antitrust lawsuit filed against the NCAA by a group of 20 former college athletes including ’90s-era UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon who helped lead the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA basketball championship. As reported by Yahoo sports, they seek a ruling that would give college football and basketball players a percentage of revenue from their sports for use of their names, images, and likenesses (NILs) in broadcasts and video games. They suggested that one possible scenario for payment would be to remunerate the athletes after they leave the college and to pay each player of the team an equal share.
Emmert defended the NCAA’s position that amateurism should continue to remain the lifeblood of college sports. ”It’s one of the most fundamental principles of the NCAA and intercollegiate athletics,” he said. ”They have always seen and assumed that intercollegiate athletics is about the notion that these are members of the student body. They’re not hired employees conducting games for entertainment. They’re not a random group of folks that just come together to play sports.”
Moreover, according to Emmert, if some colleges were not able to pay the athletes they would refuse to play other schools that do pay. ”They want to know everyone is playing by the same rules,” he said. ”They want to know the other teams consist of student athletes just like them.”
Yahoo Sports further reported that the court case has already had an impact, prompting many of the top conferences to increase the benefits to the athletes. Emmert says those increases are fine, but cautioned that paying the athletes more than the cost of attendance may cause some schools to drop smaller-sport programs in order to compete in football and basketball.
What may be an early sign of how the lawsuit may pan out, the Wall Street Journal reported that on June 9 the NCAA settled a separate lawsuit over the use of NILs with Electronic Arts Inc., a videogame manufacturer, which will pay $20 million to current and former Bowl Subdivision football players and Division 1 men’s basketball players. Significantly, the settlement is the first time the NCAA will pay college players for their on-field performance.