By Jake McCormick
Facebook and the NCAA might have more in common than the obvious college student-athlete profiles. Excuse me, I meant to say athlete-student. Let’s not try to fool ourselves into thinking the NCAA actually cares if Terrelle Pryor, Tim Tebow or anyone on Florida State goes to class, just as long as they know that 11 players have to be on the football field at all times.
Recently, Facebook users have been circulating a message warning of the network’s abuse of power by means of an automatic agreement that it can use any user’s photograph in sidebar advertisements. It can easily be changed in the settings area of a person’s profile, but the issue at hand is that Facebook can make its own rules and answer to no one because people will continue Facebooking even if a minority of its users complain.
The NCAA is to Facebook as former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon is to the warning message. The NCAA has always been using game highlights and photographs of players whose careers amounted to nothing but a single tournament basket or last second touchdown catch. Even EA Sports gets into the mix by replicating classic NCAA championship teams in every way except their names, which opens a loophole so they don’t have to pay those players for their likenesses. In turn, players like Gerard Phelan, Lorenzo Charles, and the 1982 California Bear football team get nothing but a warm feeling when they see themselves on television unknowingly promoting NCAA interests. But unlike Facebook warnings, O’Bannon’s message can serve justice through monetary reparations.
O’Bannon, the Most Outstanding Player for the 1995 national champion UCLA basketball team and national player of the year for ’95, has been the main player in a class action lawsuit seeking an undisclosed amount of money for the league’s use of ex-player’s likenesses for commercial purposes, including video games. Seeing as the college sports industry is worth about $4 billion, I think the NCAA can afford to pay to use a player’s career highlight.
In a blog posted on LostLetterman.com, O’Bannon explains his reasoning behind the lawsuit, which has been a long time coming: “My biggest thing right now is, once we leave the university and are done playing in the NCAA, one would think we’d be able to leave with our likeness, … But we aren’t able to. If you don’t take your likeness with you, you should at least be compensated for every dime that is made off your name or likeness.”
Of course, the NCAA has no problem pulling a Bud Selig with scandals such as Florida State academics, the Wisconsin Badger ShoeBox scandal, and Rhett Bomar’s “job,” all of which are far more common than the league would admit. But as long as they prosper, it’s OK to hold off punishment and an investigation until it becomes an unavoidable problem. At least someone learned from Selig. But the NCAA thinks its completely justified for its athletes to buy the food, cook the meal, serve it on a golden platter, and sit in the corner while everyone else gets to eat. Sounds fair to me.
Even precedent works against the NCAA. The NFL Player’s Association lost a similar suit and were ordered to pay $28 million or more to ex-players for selling their likeness to EA Sports. Obviously the NFL doesn’t lack the funds to help retired players and it’s not like John Elway really needs the money, but that doesn’t mean it’s justified to exploit his accomplishments without sending him a paycheck. Ditto goes for the NCAA, where the issue is far more important because not every USC or Ohio State player becomes an NFL great. Even a couple thousand dollars could help players’ lives after college, especially in our current economic situation. If the NCAA really cares about its image it needs to prove that the players, not the money, are the most important cog in the system. Given the NFL’s reluctance to help ex-players with football-related problems after their careers end, I’m not confident in the NCAA’s ability to show its humanity.Follow paulmbanks