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“Approximately 1 percent of NCAA men’s basketball players and 2 percent of NCAA football players are drafted by NBA or NFL teams,” stated the 2001 report, basing its figures on a review of the previous 10 years, “and just being drafted is no assurance of a successful professional career.” Warning that the odds against professional athletic success are “astronomically high,” the Knight Commission counsels college athletes to avoid a “rude surprise” and to stick to regular studies.
This is sound advice as far as it goes, but it’s a bromide that pinches off discussion.
“I want to give something back.” Call it redemption, he told me. The outcome of the 1984 Regents decision validated an antitrust approach for O’Bannon, King argues, as well as for Joseph Agnew in his continuing case against the one-year scholarship rule.
Lawyers for Sam Keller—a former quarterback for the University of Nebraska who is featured in video games—are pursuing a parallel “right of publicity” track based on the First Amendment.
But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves.
Here, a leading civil-rights historian makes the case for paying college athletes—and reveals how a spate of lawsuits working their way through the courts could destroy the NCAA.
Then the Sherman Antitrust Act would provide for thorough discovery to break down exactly what the NCAA receives on everything from video clips to jerseys, contract by contract. The recommendation was based on the worthy truism that sunlight is a proven disinfectant. Conferences, coaches, and other stakeholders resisted disclosure; college players still have no way of determining their value to the university.
“And we want to know what they’re carrying on their books as the value of their archival footage,” he concluded. “Money surrounds college sports,” says Domonique Foxworth, who is a cornerback for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and an executive-committee member for the NFL Players Association, and played for the University of Maryland.
The Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that takes an interest in college athletics as part of its concern with civic life, had tasked them with saving college sports from runaway commercialism as embodied by the likes of Vaccaro, who, since signing his pioneering shoe contract with Michael Jordan in 1984, had built sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas, and Reebok.
The debates and commissions about reforming college sports nibble around the edges—trying to reduce corruption, to prevent the “contamination” of athletes by lucre, and to maintain at least a pretense of concern for academic integrity.
Everything stands on the implicit presumption that preserving amateurism is necessary for the well-being of college athletes.
“Boy, the silence that fell in that room,” he recalled recently.
“I never will forget it.” Friday, who founded and co-chaired two of the three Knight Foundation sports initiatives over the past 20 years, called Vaccaro “the worst of all” the witnesses ever to come before the panel.
But what Vaccaro said in 2001 was true then, and it’s true now: corporations offer money so they can profit from the glory of college athletes, and the universities grab it.