RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Were going to turn now to what some consider a double standard in sports. What if college basketball and football players were no longer treated as amateurs?
Commentator Frank Deford looks at an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA that seeks a profit for college athletes who have been merchandised.
FRANK DEFORD: Today, Ed OBannon gets some company in a lawsuit that may well conceivably lead to the end of amateurism in big-time college football and basketball. OBannon was a basketball star at UCLA in the 1990s, but for the last few months, hes been a lead plaintiff in a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, which argues that he and his fellow big-time athletes through the years should have been paid by the NCAA for the use of their likenesses in video games.
The names of a number of other former college athletes, some who played as far back as the 1960s, will be revealed today, giving more substance to the charge that the NCAA has, for decades, withheld from athletes, hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars that it made by merchandising those athletes not only in video games, but in DVDs, apparel, memorabilia and other profit realms.
But as Jon King, the lead lawyer for the players, says, this case has much broader implications. That is to say, while the train is leaving the station on the side track of video games, the end of the journey may well be the express end of amateurism.
The NCAA, which is a nonprofit entity, must now open its books the first time theyve seen public scrutiny. Thats just the start. At trial, Jon King maintains that the NCAA must somehow convince the court that it possesses an exemption from antitrust law. After all, the NCAA members the colleges agree to do something collectively, specifically, not pay players. And that is certainly the essence of antitrust activity.
So heres the rub for the NCAA - explain what the exemption is, which allows it to operate in a manner where performers in the United States are not paid for their labor. Jon King says he can only imagine that the NCAAs defense will be a protection of amateurism. But in the last four decades or so, that old-world, upper-class concept has been abandoned in virtually all other high-profile, big-money sports first in tennis, and then in several Olympic sports.
It simply seems illogical that virtually alone in the world of big-money commercial sport, American college football and basketball players still must lift the bale and tote the barge of amateurism.
MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford. He's senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated, and he joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
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