(image credit: Kirby Lee / USA Today)
Written by: Joseph Yun
Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued the legal equivalent of Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) to the NCAA's iron grip on the last vestiges of amateurism.
It was a clear-cut unanimous decision in a landmark ruling in the NCAA vs. Alston case in which the issue of the legality of restrictions against athlete compensation was contested for many years.
Just how thoroughly did the highest court in the land eviscerate the organization over their failings? Look at this excerpt of the decision as written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh per The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach:
Another damaging part of Cavanaugh’s concurring opinion is this excerpt per UGA’s The Athletic beat writer Seth Emerson:
And that’s a concurring opinion issued by the Justice. Normally, written opinions are as reserved and even-handed as possible. This was a scathing nuclear grade flamethrower lobbed at the NCAA.
How did we get here?
For decades, the NCAA ruled college athletics in such a ham-handed manner that makes the most inept and contemptible organizations in the corporate world look like amateurs (no pun intended).
This is the same organization that, until a few years ago, did not bother adapting legislation to even mandating unlimited snacks and meals until a former athlete raised awareness of the issue back in 2014. The very same organization somehow thought it logical and fair to female basketball players to have laughable workout equipment at the women’s March Madness in comparison to their male colleagues. This is the same multibillion “not for profit” organization that oversees regulation so blatantly lax and inconsistent that only a few assistant coach minnows get prosecuted while big-time coaches keep their jobs (minus Sean Miller and Rick Pitino who came back to college after serving what is, effectively a show-cause penalty overseas) even after getting caught on FEDERAL wiretaps admitting guilt. Suffice it to say, that the NCAA isn’t the bastion of morality and rectitude. There’s a reason why the quote, “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, they’re going to give Cleveland State another year of probation” by legendary Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian and his towel biting still applies to the organization’s infamous lack of reading the room. Football is filled with even more blatant examples such as Miami / Nevin Shapiro, USC / Reggie Bush, and Ohio State’s tattoo fiasco among countless other stories.
Amidst all this in the backdrop, there is perhaps a chance that “cheating” by programs wouldn’t have reached the magnitude and the highest of highs if the NCAA would have simply streamlined rules and actually was proactive for a change. The money quote (paraphrasing) by famous college sports author Steven Godfrey in the great Laremy Tunsil “Foul Play” scandal series, “The college football that you and I know and love, wouldn’t be the same sport without the “financial implications”.
Where do we go from here?
The NCAA, fresh off its beatdown from the Court, issued a last-minute mandate regarding Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) which is to be enforced before the July 1 deadline that many states have enacted NIL legislation.
It is far too late for the NCAA to step in now and act like they are embracing NIL as they have been highly resistant to the idea in the first place. Many states, including Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi have passed legislation earmarked for their own state institutions regarding the matter, starting on July 1 in lieu of proper Congressional intervention. For the NCAA to attempt this callous and recalcitrant disregard for years-long efforts to properly compensate athletes is asinine and sophomoric, bordering on repugnant barbarism.
With the multitude of states intervening on their programs’ behalf by passing NIL laws, far differing from one another, could there be one unifying federal legislation in the near future? There has to be in order for the smaller programs (Group of 6) to have a fighting chance against the likely hoarding of the elite prospects by the big fish (Power 5). Even within the Power 5, there will be the “haves (SEC, Big Ten, ACC)” and “have nots (Pac-12)”. If the federal government doesn’t step in, we would probably bear witness to individual states trying to one-up each other in an all-out fracas. I mean, heck, college programs in the SAME STATE have differing rules and regulations in their NIL policies, much less in different states. High school recruiting has already been a fever pitch bloodsport in which only the strong survive for eons. It’s almost Darwinian, particularly amongst its Southern rivalries. Uncle Sam always gets his cut of the pie. It would be remiss of Congress to not institute national guidelines on taxable rates for NIL income in conjunction with the states.
The famed transfer portal brought pro-style free agency in all collegiate sports along with the NCAA rule on a free one-time transfer policy as a result.
Perhaps, there could be a new functioning governing body that replaces the NCAA in its entirety to regulate things on a macro and micro level. Something resembling the United Nations Security Council or FIFA and their various Football Association subdivisions.
College athletics as we know it is now dead. The era of the NCAA lording over their constituents like medieval feudal overlords is on the path of ruination. Our nation’s Supreme Court dramatically set the NCAA on course to meet its end as we know and loathe it. They forced the organization to look at itself in the mirror and it wasn’t a pretty picture. It is the dawn of a new era in college sports with NIL legislation, transfer portal, and football playoff expansion dominating the sphere of influences that certain power programs will likely skirmish over in mutual hostility if not outright dissension.
The NCAA has reaped what it has sowed after decades of horrendous, hypocritical, unrelenting drive for grandiose avarice disguised in unctuous declarations of being supportive for the student-athlete and programs. It is more than past time for the powers that be in college athletics to disavow themselves of this organization and create a new leading voice. SCOTUS has set the guidelines for it as Mark Emmert sees his organization “burn” like Rome (much like Nero allegedly playing the fiddle while said event was going on) after fresh, unprecedented challenges have pressed them into increasing obsoletion in the 21st century.