OAKLAND, Calif. — They come calling with promises of a good education, a chance to play on television and some of the best facilities that money can buy.
There may come a time, though, when recruiters chasing the best high school football and basketball players offer something else: a nice paycheck to take with them as a parting gift when their college days are over.
Football players could get several hundred thousand dollars. Basketball players would do even better, perhaps becoming millionaires even if they never play a day in the NBA. Under some scenarios they could take the payments in lieu of what they would have gotten for tuition and room and board. They would be college employees of a sort, able to take classes if they wish or simply play sports.
And the NCAA might still be able to take the high road and continue to run big-time college sports as “amateur” programs.
“There’s nothing inherent in the word amateurism that says increasing substantially the amount paid athletes would violate the principle of amateurism,” said Stanford economics professor Roger Noll, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs. “There’s no reason to believe that.”
It’s all theoretical, of course, based on models that may never come into play. But just what the future of big-time college athletics may look like if the NCAA loses a landmark antitrust suit is beginning to come into focus as attorneys representing former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and others press their case in a federal court trial.
No one expects the current system run by the NCAA to be completely blown up. But at a time when billions of dollars are flowing into college sports there is little dispute that players will get a bigger chunk of the pie.
That may come as soon as next year when the five major conferences move to separate themselves from football programs that aren’t nearly as profitable and give athletes more money and greater benefits. Among the proposals is more money to cover the full cost of attending school and better medical and travel benefits.