A Real-World Collegiate Model

In a previous blog "Euclidean Geometry and the NCAA's Collegiate Model," I outlined how and why the NCAA's current "Collegiate Model" cannot be the basis for dealing with the reality of big-time college sport. Just as we need non-Euclidean geometries to deal with non-Euclidean space, we need workable solutions to deal with the realities we face today.

I stated:

"Such reactions demonstrate those in positions of authority within college sport are ill equipped to discover real solutions to big-time college sport's problems. Trapped within their Euclidean college-sport geometry, they are culturally, systemically and philosophically unable or unwilling to break free of big-time college-sport's hegemony."

What is needed is a non-Euclidean collegiate model, in which what we know today as NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and men's Division-I college basketball players would be recognized as employees (an accepted reality for many scholars), while other college athletes retained their "amateur" status. Undoubtedly, this would require major legal and economic changes to the current collegiate model, but it would not be apocalyptic.

It is important to recognize that if such a quantum shift occurs, western civilization, as we know it, will not crumble; the sun will, most likely, continue to set in the west; and the Law of Gravity will still describe a jump shot's trajectory. Without a doubt, significant market changes will take time to sort out. However, such changes have occurred in other industries (e.g. telecommunications, air transportation, and petroleum) compelled to transition from monopolistic to free-market economies. It is important to remember that just as when we switched from horses to horseless carriages, we can survive and thrive amid these changes.

A post-O'Bannon world might include a non-NCAA "college" football and men's basketball organization, whose member teams would play their games in existing college facilities and provide entertainment for alumni, college students and fans. Players would be represented by players' associations, which would negotiate their employment conditions. This league or leagues would be comprised of existing FBS teams. Some universities might choose to de-emphasize football and retain a semblance of an amateur model.

Importantly, since within this context these athletes are employees, it is very likely Title IX would not apply. In addition, no doubt there would be significant tax implications and college coaches' and administrators' markets would be impacted. Similar to many athletic departments today, these teams would be separate corporate entities from universities, but be associated with the university community. Fans could still have an emotional attachment to these teams, but the player exploitation would be greatly diminished.

Within this landscape, it is important to bear in mind universities would still be free to provide non-entertainment athletic opportunities for students in non-revenue sports. The NCAA (just as it does currently) could provide governance for these sports, or existing national governing bodies (NGBs) could step in and provide organizational structure. Within this new reality the scale and scope of "Olympic" sports would be scaled back, allowing these "students" to concentrate on their educational experiences -- surely a welcome development.

In this brave new world, post-high school football and men's basketball players might be signed to multi-year contracts for a maximum of five years (one in-active season would be allowed).

In addition, teams, just as they do currently, might provide players with room and board -- an easily budgeted fixed cost. A negotiated salary structure could involve a minimum salary scale for first-year players, with an annual salary increase. As would be expected, starters would make more than non-starters.

A proposed structure might look something like this:
Level 4 - 4th-year starter
Level 3 - 3rd-year starter
Level 2 - 2nd-year starter
Level 1 - 1st-year starter

To incentivize performance, players could also receive end-of-the-season bonuses based on the team's final conference standing (each conference would set their bonus amounts based upon a specific revenue source.

Just as currently the football coach at the University Toledo does not make the same salary as the football coach at the University of Texas, not every conference would necessarily have the same salaries or bonuses, since not all conferences generate similar revenue.

Not to be forgotten, players -- if they were university or state employees -- would be eligible for educational benefits. Being interested in these players as individuals, the players' association and leagues might provide educational benefits including full-tuition, books and fees vouchers for three semesters for each season the athletes were on a team roster.

The player could choose to redeem all or some of the credits while he was playing or just bank the credits and be a full-time student after completing his playing career. If a player chose to, he could still go to school full-time and complete his bachelor's and master's degrees during his eligibility. A team could, if they wanted, give a player a bonus for being a full-time student while he was a player.

Such a program would still recognize the value of a college education, but remove the current system's inherent hypocrisy, reflected in the need to resort to hyphenated words, such as "student-athlete" when referring to players.

Lifetime health insurance would also be a great benefit. The premium would increase after a player has exhausted his eligibility, but lifetime coverage should be a negotiated benefit. The premium could be based on a player's income and players would not have to carry the coverage if they chose not to, but players should have unfettered access to health insurance.

In addition to negotiated salaries, players should also receive a percentage of royalties from products utilizing their names and likenesses, based upon an agreed calculus. Players would be able to negotiate endorsements deals similarly to those allowed for coaches.

Without a doubt, these proposals are not consistent with the NCAA's current collegiate model. But they are honest and honorable proposals. Accepting a non-Euclidean reality would free fans from having to "suspend their disbelief" when cheering on their teams, and allow universities to return to their core mission of education. Just as the University of Chicago and Birmingham-Southern College found the nerve to abandon big-time college sport, surely we can find the courage to quit trying to simply re-measure college-sport's triangle and develop lasting solutions.