Let's "Pay Ball": Both sides of the O'Bannon v. the NCAA debate

Not many people will tell you outright that the collegiate athletes at Division I programs don’t deserve to be paid for their contributions to each of their respective schools—but I will.

 Athletes playing amateur sports—which NCAA basketball and football fall under—have, by tradition, never been paid for their “services.” Men and women (of collegiate stature) provide said services to the universities they attend and have agreed, under a several corollary contract, to uphold their end of the bargain. That is, to compete at a high level, so as to aid the sports program in advancing its competitive position. They know the deal.

Recently, the Ed O'Bannon v. the NCAA lawsuit has been picking up speed, forging a considerable argument for the "pay-for-play model": a construct that, if developed and legalized, would grant college athletes compensation for their endeavors.

Boston College Athletic Director, Brad Bates, says of the proposed paradigm, “It shifts everything from a developmental model to a labor model. I’m not a lawyer but my suspicion is that if that ends up happening it’s going to change the entire way that amateur sports are viewed in this country and how it’s dealt with in institutions.”

Not that the newly appointed AD is vehemently battling the issue, but he understands that it would create administrative quarrels nationwide, for both players and their respective institutions.

But what about the contract-devising party’s obligation to the student-athletes in the aforementioned “several corollary contract,"' you might ask?

Well, there is the administrative task to check a little box on a filed record with [Insert student-athlete name here]’s name in the upper-left-most box, subsequently providing him or her with free tuition for eight semesters—given he or she completes the four years—to [insert collegiate wonderland name here].

This tick mark also miraculously credits the recipient with “Room and Board,” providing the individual with shelter—a necessity some might argue—for which the remaining student population of nonstudent-athletes pay upwards of $10,000 per year.

Despite participating in revenue generating activities and receiving no cut of their incremental value added (individually), these athletes are clearly being compensated already.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany turned heads last month when he told media members that his entire conference would move to Division-III if a "pay-for-play model" was instituted.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany turned heads last month when he told media members that his entire conference would move to Division-III if a "pay-for-play model" was instituted.

What is this? Boxing? Where athletes are to negotiate for cuts of the PPV sales?

Take Ohio State, for example: tuition for non-Ohio residents is $25,445, with Room and Board at another $10,392, adding up to $35,837 per year. Fulfilling a four-year bachelor’s degree equates to $143,348 in costs, not including books and other living expenses. This whopping number covers an education that, if taken seriously, is overwhelmingly coveted in current society.

Receive an email from anyone in the private sector, and 9 times out of 10, there will be an electronic signature at the bottom of the email reading--

Terelle Pryor

Ohio State ‘??

Student-Athlete quarterback

$0 salary

--this signature shows that they're dying to curate the image of themselves to be tasteful and educated enough to make it out there in our unforgiving world. Just an example.

Bates said of the subject, “Whenever you engage in a discussion about additional compensation for athletic ability, you are deluding the value of an education, and particularly at Boston College where the education here is a quarter of a million dollars. That’s a very significant benefit.”

On top of it all, stipends cover the “inherent cost of playing,” which has been loosely defined under NCAA bylaws. Bates stated that at Boston College, “We provide [the student-athletes] with resources that allow them to maximize their development during their time.” This means weight rooms, top-of-the-line medical staff, and swag ranging from Under Armour nightgowns to cleats.

The revenue dollars aren’t merely feeding the pockets of university shareholders, they feed back directly into the lives of the athletes.

Universities are already doing everything they can within the NCAA guidelines to make sure these students have every resource at their disposal to ensure a successful athletic and academic career.

Yes, the programs wouldn’t exist without the players, but why lobby for a cut of the money when, in reality, those dollars put into the form of hard cash are coming straight out of the overhead allocated to the program’s developmental foundation. Not to mention the effect this remodeling would have on the funding of non-revenue generating sports.

By a trickle-down effect, coaches, administration and all spending towards the athletics department would have to take a major cut. As plaintiffs have argued in O’Bannon v. NCAA, the association representing the players’ and former players’ side of the lawsuit is looking to retain possibly half of the television revenues.

This would likely lead to the cutting of the majority of non-revenue generating sports to make room for the massive increase in “labor expenses.” Oh gosh, I guess you’ll never get to watch your roommate sword fight again.


The buzzer goes off at 6 AM. Over and over and over again.

The sheets peel off grudgingly, as just one of thousands of student-athletes nationwide trudge through still dormitory halls to meet teammates for AM conditioning runs. The calloused hands create fog on the frosted glass panels of doors leading outside.

Upon the student-athletes’ return, bodies still emitting steam from the production of internal heat, a shower is taken, a bag is packed and a day of class awaits, all before afternoon workouts and attendance to several looming academic assignments.

A mind bending, arm-twisting day of stress that-would-have-your-mother-irrationally-berating-you-because-she-misplaced-her-watch-on-a-day-that-she-had-to-go-to-the-post-office-and-the-supermarket-after-work? Not quite. It’s just an average day in the life of a student-athlete.

Ed O'Bannon, a power forward on the 1995 National Champion UCLA Bruins, devoted his post-playing career lobbying for student-athlete compensation. He was named the lead plaintiff of the case in 2009.

Ed O'Bannon, a power forward on the 1995 National Champion UCLA Bruins, devoted his post-playing career lobbying for student-athlete compensation. He was named the lead plaintiff of the case in 2009.

However, this does seem fitting for some salary style compensation, considering the requirements demanded of these individuals. It seems more like a plantation system then a team, some might argue.

Coaches and staff run the farm while AD’s and the rest of university brass sit back and collect the paycheck—which has seen incredible growth over recent years following new media contracts and sponsorship endorsements—as the players continue to grind away on the hardwood or the gridiron, studying film and attending study halls, fighting to meet the demand of high expectations.

Also, remember: scholarships are renewable on a semester-to-semester basis and can be terminated if deemed necessary. If the higher-ups really see the education in terms of dollars, maybe they’ll think twice about pulling something worth a quarter of a million dollars from someone.

With a body hurting like you couldn’t imagine and hours to be put in at the library, these young adults work up a healthy diet, aka expense account. That’s where stipends come in, they say. But, the regimen requires more then just feeding these fine human specimens three hearty meals per day, with some overlap for books and school supplies.

This expanse of topics covered by the stipends is said to meet the “inherent cost playing” aspect of a student-athlete’s workweek. Although this cost of playing is debatable, the burden of the responsibility put on each individual is undeniable.

What say you to this: Whey protein supplement: $49.99. Offseason physical therapy: $50 co-pay per visit with health insurance. Travel expenses to and from school: gas=$3.58/gallon (greater Boston-area average) and airfare at an historic high. Sundries (miscellaneous items not covered in tuitions and fees): vary greatly depending on climate areas.

But, an education=priceless? In the economy nowadays, who really knows such a value with millions unemployed or overqualified.

This may be the only chance these entertainers have to make it—but entertainers, in the modern sense of the word, would imply a sort of value generated for the individual.

They must put everything in, to get something out, and that "something" seems many miles down the road. In addition, with the demand for continually accelerated play, injuries have never come in such frequency; therefore, it is a risk every time they step out onto the turf. What do they gain in return? Future stock? Discipline?

O’Bannon v. the NCAA brought the hotly debated issue to national headlines in 2009. The lawsuit divulged the dealings done under the noses of the players. However, since the case was brought to court, nothing has been made of it.

As of today, the case has yet to be certified and would, at the earliest, see trial in June of next year. The procedural process by the NCCA has acted as a sort of stalwart to the court proceedings and thus far has produced no positive signs for the players.

From the cushy, air-conditioned box seats looking down on Alumni Stadium, the revenues generated by the athletes’ exploits are being counted.