O'Bannon Trial: NCAA president Emmert will tout 'reforms'

OAKLAND, Calif. — Today, NCAA president Mark Emmert will get to talk. He likely will use the word "reform" often, championing his organization's ongoing efforts. He likely will say, according to an NCAA spokesman, that making the necessary changes to the current model was his priority when he took over in 2010, that he wouldn't have called together a large group of university presidents for a weekend "retreat" in August 2011 if he wasn't committed to the cause.

Given that he will be discussing those things in front of Judge Claudia Ann Wilken in a United States Courthouse as a witness in an antitrust class-action lawsuit against the NCAA that threatens to crack the bedrock of his enterprise, it is highly possible that Emmert has not achieved his stated goal quickly enough.

O‘‍Bannon Trial: Day 8
Developments: The trial picked up pace Wednesday as four witnesses took the stand. First was Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics who served as an expert witness on human capital for the NCAA. His findings, using the National Educational Longitudinal Study, were that, particularly among students from disadvantaged backgrounds, playing college football and basketball greatly increased their chances of graduating with a college degree. Plaintiffs' attorney Michael Hausfeld discredited his conclusions because Heckman's analysis included all NCAA schools and did not specify data for Division I-A football and Division I basketball players.
South Carolina president Harris Pastides was next and argued for the integration of academics and athletics. EA Sports' Joel Linzner was then called by the plaintiffs and said the video game company wanted to profit from the names, images and likenesses of players but was not allowed to under NCAA rules. Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir took the stand and will finish his testimony Friday.

Impact: Heckman, Pastides and Muir speculated that athletes being paid would alter the integration of academics and athletics. But it was just that -- speculation.

What's ahead: NCAA president Mark Emmert will take stand today; Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany is due Friday.

More than halfway through the three weeks allotted for the O'Bannon v. NCAA trial, the organization could use a boost from Emmert. With each passing day, the scope of its defense against the plaintiffs' claim -- that the organization has conspired with the conferences and schools to restrict competition among Division I-A football players and Division I basketball players to receive fair market value for the use of their names, images and likenesses [NILs] -- has become more and more focused.

The NCAA spent most of Wednesday arguing that academics and athletics are integrated at its member institutions even for the top athletes in those revenue-producing sports -- a notion that, its witnesses suggested, would be compromised greatly if they were to be paid for their NILs. In arguing this point, the NCAA only referenced the Armageddon scenario of athletes getting a 50/50 cut of TV money.

The NCAA's attorney hardly even cross-examined Joel Linzner, the executive vice president for legal and business affairs at Electronic Arts, Inc., which represents another potential source of revenue for athletes.

Linzner, likely the plaintiffs' final witness, said the video game company asked the NCAA to allow it to use players' NILs but was told it could not. The NCAA felt that showed it was not concerned with further commercializing its product, but it also did not refute Linzner's assertion that the consumer demand is there for the athletes' NILs, to the point that EA Sports is waiting for them to become available after this litigation so that it can begin making the games again (EA stopped its NCAA Football franchise this year, despite it bringing in $80 million a year).

The NCAA was much more interested in hearing from University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides, a firm believer in the message that Emmert is expected to deliver today.

Pastides, of course, does not think that the football and basketball players at South Carolina should be paid for use of their NILs, specifically in TV broadcasts.

"I would describe it as driving a wedge between that small portion of students who would receive those kind of payments [and the rest]," Pastides said. "We strive to operate the athletic department as an integrated, cohesive department."

Pastides didn't stop at saying it would create a gulf between football and basketball and the rest of the sports (many of which he acknowledged were subsidized by them). He said he would likely have to cut non-revenue sports in order to pay players for use of their NILs. On the other hand, he said, South Carolina couldn't just stop playing football and basketball.

"I think our fans or our board of trustees would probably replace me," Pastides said.

Michael Hausfeld, the plaintiffs' attorney, was out to prove in his cross-examination that there is plenty of money at South Carolina to be spread around.

He showed football coach Steve Spurrier's salary growing from $2 million in 2006 to $5.5 million now and made the point that Under Armour was now paying Spurrier more than $3 million over four years to outfit the teams while his players -- walking advertisements -- received nothing.

"Take a look at bonus money," Hausfeld added later outside the courtroom. "Take a look at the fact that the SEC is starting its own network. I think from a practical point of view they understand the benefits they want and need to provide are going to be expensive, and they're going to have to come up with ways to do that."

Pastides is a member of the NCAA Board of Directors and served on a steering committee for governance reform.

The board will vote in August on the "Power Five" conferences receiving more autonomy from NCAA rules so that they can offer to pay full cost of attendance, which would add a stipend for spending money in addition to the scholarship.

Pastides is for that increase, he said, because it's in moderation and spread equally to all athletes.

"It's a matter, for him and the other four conferences, of degree, not of kind," Hausfeld said.

J. Brady McCollough: bmccollough@post-gazette.com.

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