Saturday Sports: A Big Shift For The NCAA NPR's Scott Simon talks with ESPN's Howard Bryant about a groundbreaking decision by the NCAA that will let college athletes earn money for their likeness, and about some pro sports reopening.
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Saturday Sports: A Big Shift For The NCAA

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Saturday Sports: A Big Shift For The NCAA

Saturday Sports: A Big Shift For The NCAA

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: College athletes may begin to earn some money from their fame - just in time for a lot of games to be canceled. But a judge rules against a suit by U.S. women's soccer players. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you. Look. The summer musical festival at Ravinia outside Chicago - canceled yesterday. Theaters, concert halls are dark. But NASCAR is going to start racing - no spectators - but in just two weeks. Florida's governor has floated the idea of fans in baseball stadiums in a month or two. What do they see, or what are they not seeing that others don't?

BRYANT: Well, they see the balance sheet - is what they're seeing. And I think that this is the moment that people have been anticipating as this pandemic continued on. I remember when we first got the word that sports were going to start to be canceled. I remember getting texts from executives and players in the business that it was an overreaction. And then I got other texts from people saying, well, we have to be very delicate about this because we don't want to make it appear that we're putting profits over safety.

And now as you start to move forward into two months, three months, now you're starting to really look at the numbers. And you're seeing that there's this feeling that people want to get on with it. I was doing a panel with Arizona State University yesterday, and they had conducted a poll inside of our Zoom where you had over two-thirds of the people that were part of the - that had registered saying that they wanted to get on with it. They were ready for sports, but you also had - I think it was almost 80% of them saying they don't want to go to the games. So you can see this battle taking place here between wanting to get on with it, wanting to be normal but knowing that we're not normal and knowing that the player's safety versus their entertainment value seems to be a question. But the fans are saying that they're not willing to risk their own safety yet to even watch a game.

SIMON: I want to turn to the NCAA decision. They say they're opening the door for college athletes to get corporate sponsorship, be able to market themselves. Colleges will not pay athletes directly. Did the NCAA act before a lot of prized young athletes in increasing numbers decide to skip college sports and go directly to pros or developmental leagues?

BRYANT: Well, we've been talking about this for years, Scott. And I think that when you start to look at the - all the different assaults on amateurism, the NCAA has got to do something. And they've known that they've had to do something. And I think they have done so much to try and battle their way through this. And they haven't been able to do it. And they recognize that at some point, you can't call yourselves amateurs when you're forcing these players to play uncompensated as the revenues in the business continue to go up. And I think the COVID-19 epidemic is also going to have huge, huge ramifications here simply because the college sports want to get on with it, as well. And here's a question - even more so, even more important than the pros - how are you supposed to get on with it if the students aren't even back on campus? That certainly makes you an employee, as well.

SIMON: Judges dismissed the U.S. women's soccer team claims of unequal pay. That doesn't close the issue, does it?

BRYANT: It doesn't close the issue because the women are going to appeal. They - the judge said that the players were being treated unequally in terms of accommodations - hotel, travel, et cetera - but not in terms of on average pay. This battle's not over yet, but it's a huge, huge blow, I think, to the women's fight because they've been such an inspiration on top of it.

SIMON: Yeah. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott.

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