Mark the date: The recent court ruling against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the O’Bannon case combined with a decision by the NCAA in effect creating a division of “superconferences” will serve as the impetus for the acceleration of the downward spiral of the highest levels of college athletics into farm systems for the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.
The decision in the O’Bannon case could have been worse for the NCAA. There could have been a huge settlement for retroactive compensation of the plaintiffs with unlimited stipends going forward as well as major antitrust violations, but by simply banning the prohibition of cost-of-living stipends in addition to scholarships, the student-athlete myth is now completely dead and the dam is broken on fully professionalizing the two primary revenue-producing college sports.
And the related decision by the NCAA to recognize in scholarship policy the obvious gulf between the “haves” (the five major conferences) and “have nots” (everyone else) in the college sports arms race will incentivize the hastening of these outcomes.
This bargain with the devil has been coming for quite some time and, as I was told by a prominent university leader a number of years ago in response to several of my recommendations for reform, to have reversed this process would have required an almost complete overhaul of human nature.
As a consolation, at least now those institutions that either can’t afford or prefer not to join in this bargain can move strategically in a different direction, toward athletic programs that are consistent with and do not undermine their academic mission.