Commentary | As Signing Day approaches, lawsuits against the NCAA continue to pile up

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 30, 2013 

The NCAA is buried under an avalanche of lawsuits that keeps growing.

It won't stop National Signing Day, but everyone should take off their blinders.

On Feb. 6, many parents and their sons who sign a letter of intent to play major college football will believe they received the keys to Fort Knox.

Reality: This is an opportunity filled with obstacles.

If you don't believe it, read the lawsuits former college athletes have filed against the NCAA or just take a few seconds to heed to words of Walter Byers.

Byers, who ran the NCAA for 37 years until his retirement in 1988, has accused the NCAA of maintaining a neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches).

"The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers," he wrote.

One of the most notable lawsuits against the NCAA was filed by Ed O'Bannon. The former UCLA basketball player and others accuse the NCAA of operating a monopoly because players are required to sign away their commercial rights to participate in collegiate sports.

The list of plaintiffs includes basketball legends Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson. They argue they should be earning royalties from video games and the like that bear their images and names because they are no longer amateur athletes.

The litigation will affect nearly every high school athlete who signs a letter of intent Wednesday to play major college football.

When your son signs his letter of intent, the NCAA will own him lock, stock and barrel.

The NCAA cannot

force anyone to give information, and athletes who no longer play collegiate sports don't want to testify.

It is not a regulatory body and has no subpoena powers. To counteract that, the NCAA enforcement task force has undertaken dubious measures.

It sent out letters to former University of Miami athletes and told them if they didn't talk to the NCAA, the organization would assume they were guilty of rules violations and punish their alma mater.

Former NCAA infractions committee chairman Jo Potutuo wrote in an email published by CBSSports.com that she doesn't believe the NCAA overreached on its power. In part she said:

"Those not in school had an obligation to play by the rules when in school, and to cooperate. In these circumstances, I don't think treating silence as evidence of complicity is overreaching, at least as a general matter. The enforcement staff has given notice to the players and former players that it will allege silence is evidence confirming case of violation."

A popular theory is that if you give the NCAA enough rope it eventually will hang itself. It's based on the belief that the organization's premise for existing (helping college athletes) is fraudulent. Its real purpose is to keep athletes from getting any of the money they generate.

But things have gotten a little embarrassing, even for the NCAA.

NCAA Executive Director Mark Emmert admitted that his organization overstepped its bounds recently when it used the attorney for booster Nevin Shapiro to improperly obtain information in its investigation of the University of Miami football program.

Shapiro is in prison for fraud and is alleged to have given Miami players money and other benefits. In conducting a bankruptcy hearing on his behalf, his attorney asked questions submitted by the NCAA to help its investigation.

The attorney, Maria Elena Perez, said the NCAA paid her for those services. Emmert called the conduct by his organization inappropriate and said he was not aware of it until the bill came.

Emmert's solution would be to indict Emmert for lack of institutional control and put him and his organization in suspended animation. It's a tactic Emmert has used numerous times to punish schools when he had no clear evidence that the people at the top had knowledge that rules were broken.

But lawsuits are piling up, including the one recently filed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett challenging the NCAA's right to fine Penn State more than $60 million in regard to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

The NCAA doesn't have a standardized concussion policy and is facing a class-action suit alleging that it failed to protect athletes from the dangers of concussions..

"It's time for the NCAA to stop denying athletes the most basic of rights and protections -- due process, comprehensive health care, and adequate safety precautions. In the absence of these reforms, there will continue to be a fundamental imbalance in college athletics," said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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