Commentary | NCAA's barriers to prevent compensation for athletes starting to crumble

April 16, 2014 

There is no better time to be a kid, especially if you have a special talent for football or basketball.

The walls of the NCAA are cracking, and those who stand to benefit first are in middle school.

So if you have been toting the ball for the Manatee Bulldogs or playing in anonymity as an offensive lineman for your local Pop Warner team, a nice compensation could be coming.

Remember when responsible parents told their kids the chance of making the NFL or NBA was about the same as getting on the next rocket to the moon, so Johnny do your homework?

Well, Johnny, do your homework. But here is an added incentive: If you make it to college and are an above-average player, you could be the recipient of some nice take-home money, and it won't be the kind that exchanges hands beneath the table.

The NCAA is in a no-win situation and is going to have to make concessions.

The body that governs most of major college sports in the country is the target of multiple lawsuits and is in a Catch-22 in which defending one could weaken its case in another.

Usually that leads to negotiations.

Most people are familiar with the Ed O'Bannon suit in which former college athletes want to be paid by the NCAA for using their names or likenesses to earn money.

A federal judge has rejected NCAA's argument that prohibiting student-athletes from receiving compensation advances a broader social purpose. So, sorry, Nick Saban your $5 million-plus contract doesn't qualify, despite what residents of Tuscaloosa might think.

Prior to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, a federal lawsuit was

filed claiming the NCAA and its five so-called power conferences were a cartel in violation of anti-trust laws.

The suit seeks to stop the NCAA from prohibiting any of its member institutions from negotiating to give or providing compensation to football and basketball players, which is one argument the big five would probably go along with.

The athletes are not asking to be paid by their respective schools. They want to be able to earn income of their name, whether it includes endorsing products or other means. It takes Title IX out of the equation because women would be able to negotiate on the open market.

They want medical benefits improved, which are atrociously mishandled at some schools. They want travel money to be able to go home during the holidays.

When Tommie Frazier and Tyrone Williams were helping Nebraska win national championships, they couldn't come home for the holidays because they had no money and were not allowed to accept a meal from a local family, Williams said.

Former Southeast basketball player Lacey Houston said she was denied surgery at a school where she injured her knee because she wouldn't promise to return there.

Standout guard Shabazz Napier from national champion Connecticut, complained during the Final Four that he sometimes went to bed "starving" because he couldn't afford food.

The remark got the attention of state lawmakers in Connecticut, who are now exploring legislative ways to allow athletes at UConn, a state institution, to unionize.

There are similar cases here and around the country.

The lawsuits also raise questions over whether television networks have the right to broadcast games without compensating the players.

Can you imagine an ESPN mogul handing out checks to each player before the Final Four is broadcast? You laugh, but the best way to alleviate such a problem is a settlement.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has suggested student-athletes receive between $2,000 and $5,000 to cover the full cost of attendance, such as traveling home.

Football players at Northwestern have been granted the right to form a labor union, and athletes at other schools want to follow.

Legal experts say the NCAA barricades could come tumbling down in about seven years.

So if you are a middle-school athlete, stay with your sport. You might not have to play professionally to reap some financial benefits.

Mom and dad never had a better reason to drive Johnny to football practice.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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