Supreme Court Ends ‘Amateur’ Collegiate Sports

Most NCAA restrictions violate anti-trust law.

The nation’s highest court unanimously ruled against a cornerstone of the NCAA model. It’s legally and morally correct but will radically transform the sports landscape.

ESPN (“Supreme Court unanimously sides with former college players in dispute with NCAA about compensation“):

The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously affirmed a ruling Monday that provides for an incremental increase in how college athletes can be compensated and also opens the door for future legal challenges that could deal a much more significant blow to the NCAA’s current business model.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the court’s opinion, which upheld a district court judge’s decision that the NCAA was violating antitrust law by placing limits on the education-related benefits that schools can provide to athletes. The decision allows schools to provide their athletes with unlimited compensation as long as it is some way connected to their education.

Gorsuch wrote that the nation’s highest court limited the scope of its decision on those education-related benefits rather than delving further into questions about the association’s business model. Justice Brett Kavanaugh published a concurring opinion that takes a harder line, suggesting that the NCAA’s rules that restrict any type of compensation — including direct payment for athletic accomplishments — might no longer hold up well in future antitrust challenges.

“The NCAA is not above the law,” Kavanaugh wrote. “The NCAA couches its arguments for not paying student athletes in innocuous labels. But the labels cannot disguise the reality: The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”

The idea that college athletes should not be paid, a fundamental tenet of the 115-year-old NCAA, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years. Federal antitrust lawsuits have slowly eroded strict amateurism rules during the past decade. Politicians in 19 states have passed laws in the past two years that rebuke the organization’s rules and will soon allow athletes to start making money from third-party endorsements, and members of Congress are currently debating at least a half-dozen bills aimed at reforming the NCAA. Monday’s ruling in the NCAA v. Alston case represents another blow during a particularly uncertain time for the future of amateurism.

“It’s tremendous to win this 9-0,” lead plaintiff’s attorney Jeffrey Kessler told ESPN Monday morning. “Hopefully it will be the major next step on the road to a true fair competitive system for these athletes.”

The Alston ruling marks the first time in more than 30 years that the Supreme Court has weighed in on the governance of college sports. In 1985, the court upheld a ruling in the NCAA v. Board of Regents of Oklahoma University case that the NCAA was breaking antitrust laws by limiting the amount of times that individual schools could appear on television. The resulting change led to an explosion in media rights revenue that has reshaped the top tier of college sports. The Regents case in 1985 found that the NCAA was illegally restricting the earning potential of individual schools. The Alston ruling this week affirms that the NCAA has been illegally restricting the earning potential of individual athletes.

Despite ruling against the NCAA in 1985, the court’s opinion in that case — written by Justice John Paul Stevens — said the association should still be given “ample latitude” to make rules that it feels are best suited to preserve amateurism and the educational benefits that come with it. The NCAA’s appeal in the Alston case argued that a judge’s decision in district court unfairly stripped them of the ample latitude they need to make their own rules.

The NCAA asked the Supreme Court to review a case first filed in 2014 by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston. Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in the Alston case in 2019, determining that schools should be able to provide their athletes with educational equipment, study abroad programs, internships and even cash rewards in exchange for academic accomplishments. The NCAA’s attorneys argued that these measures were “micromanaging” rules that should be determined by the NCAA’s members and that the added benefits were “akin to professional salaries.”

“Even though the decision does not directly address name, image and likeness, the NCAA remains committed to supporting NIL benefits for student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “Additionally, we remain committed to working with Congress to chart a path forward, which is a point the Supreme Court expressly stated in its ruling.”

While I generally prefer courts to rule narrowly, sticking to the dispute at hand, I think Kavanaugh’s concurrence gets it right. The Alson case took seven years to wind its way through the system. The logic of Gorsuch’s opinion leads to where Kavanaugh went, so why force many more years of costly litigation to get there?

Name, image, and likeness rules were already likely to change and the NCAA is working feverishly to get them in place this summer. And it’s possible Congress will weigh in as well. It’s the right thing to do—colleges are already profiting by selling merchandise capitalizing on the popularity of star players, who are currently prohibited from even making a few bucks signing autographs or selling their uniform accessories. That’s unjust.

But there’s also a slippery slope: boosters will soon be paying big endorsement deals to get star high school players to come to their schools. Maybe that’s as it should be. But it further alters the competitive landscape.

The big boys will be fine. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is already working to get his conference aligned with the ruling.

“The Supreme Court’s opinion today in the Alston case provides clarity as we move forward to provide additional educationally-related benefits to student-athletes,” Sankey’s statement read. “What also is clear is the need for the continuing evaluation of the collegiate model consistent with the Court’s decision and message.

“Our next step is to engage with our member institutions to consider the implications of the opinion delivered today by the Court and to continue our tradition of providing superior educational and competitive opportunities while effectively supporting our student-athletes.”

I agree with CBS’ Dennis Dodd that, effectively, the “amateur” model that the NCAA has pushed since its inception is now dead.

NCAA amateurism is dead. Whatever you thought the moving target that was the “collegiate model” is gone. The date for the dearly departed will go down as June 21, 2021, but really, the exit from this world was years in the making.

It’s not just that amateurism is dead. The NCAA that strangled it might not be far behind.

[…]

There is no more amateurism because … what was it, anyway? Cost of attendance was handed out to athletes, not normal students. Bowl gifts (capped at $550) are basically pay for play. We’re down to arguing semantics and whether five figures can become six figures in the age of name, image and likeness.

Now, there are few roadblocks as to what athletes can earn. Without Congressional help in NIL, whatever the NCAA installs in its legislation will be subject to similar antitrust challenges as Alston v. NCAA.

[…]

One prominent Power Five source characterized Monday’s decision as “shock and awe” suggesting it “scraps the entire amateurism model as we know it.” The challenge now, the source said, is finding an NCAA decision in this space that is not a walking, talking antitrust violation.

You know what’s coming, right? NIL is going to be a monster the NCAA can’t control. It certainly can’t hint at capping compensation. It is begging Congress for legal protection not only on NIL but for any athlete in the past who want to sue. That’s a huge ask for an organization that just got blown out in the Supreme Court.

Unless there is that Congressional intervention, the NCAA is a fly on the wall to antiquity. And if Congress steps in, the NCAA will be even further marginalized. The federal government will be the de facto arbiter of college sports.

“I think it’s terminal. I really do,” another prominent Power Five source told CBS Sports in March regarding the current set up.

Now, I think this all goes a bit far. Outside of big-time football and men’s basketball, there’s not much money in college sports. Women’s sports, outside of maybe a handful of college basketball programs, are a money loser. So are most men’s sports programs. They’re maintained for reasons of school pride and the hope of somehow rising to the big-time level.

Players at schools like Jacksonville State, where I got my undergraduate degree, or Troy, where I taught for four years and where my co-blogger Steven Taylor is a Dean, are seldom going to command big bucks from name, image, and likeness deals. They rarely send players to the NFL or NBA and, even more rarely send stars.

And yesterday’s ruling will likely have little impact on the Olympic sports. Aside from a handful of boosters of the Phil Knight variety, there’s just little danger of big money flooding into those programs. We’re really talking about big-time football and basketball.

But I do think Dodd is right on the bigger picture: if the Alabama footballs and Duke basketballs of the world are going to get into an arms race of paying for the best players, there’s simply no reason to keep the NCAA around to take a slice of the pie and issue annoying regulations.

My guess is that the rich will simply get richer here and the “Power 5” football schools will simply organize into a quasi-professional league. And, as Dodd notes, the only real value the NCAA provides now is the March Madness basketball tournament. Schools could certainly figure out how to keep that going, although the NCAA owns trademarks in most of the names (March Madness, Final Four, etc.) we’ve associated with the tournament.

I’ll also be interested to see how all of this impacts the Title IX requirements for women’s athletics. The conventional wisdom has been that schools can’t compensate players on the men’s teams without doing so for the women’s teams. But if the money is coming from the conferences and only goes to certain players on the revenue sports—thus excluding most male student-athletes—I would imagine they could get around the issue.

Regardless, college sports as we know it is about to change radically and soon.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Sports, Supreme Court
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Barry says:

    “It’s legally and morally correct but will radically transform the sports landscape.”

    James, why the ‘but’? Why not ‘and’?

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    scraps the entire amateurism model as we know it

    And this is a bad thing? Big time college sports so obviously corrupt and despoil the Universities they are associated with. I am amazed anyone can see any good whatsoever that comes with these multi-million dollar coaches, ….

    I started to list everything I see wrong with college sports but that’s not productive. I’ll leave it at this: I must have a different metric of “positive” than college sports fans because by mine the weight of the bad overwhelms any small good that might come from these programs.

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  3. Joe says:

    It seems like a short road to certain revenue sports teams being professional organizations “affiliated” with certain universities. It will be hard to watch for the recently graduated “amateurs” as they see their younger siblings compensated for the fame they contributed for tuition credits.

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  4. Scott says:

    Just in this post lie the word of contradiction that drove this decision. That word is “model”.

    We have NCAA model, business model, collegiate model, and amateur model. Those various models couldn’t coexist without running into their internal contradictions and subsequent implosions.

    Primarily, this is about greed and money and who controls it. I wonder, at the end of the day, whether for me college football and basketball will fade into the indifference I now feel for pro sports. Probably so. I get about just as much pleasure spending $10 a ticket going to minor league hockey and baseball as going to a big game. And I won’t have to give $60 to Jerry Jones just to park.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: @MarkedMan: There’s a lot to like about college sports. And, as noted in the post, most of it is still what it purports to be: student-athletes enjoying competition while pursuing higher education. It’s really just big-time football and basketball that will change radically and largely in ways fans and the vast majority of athletes won’t like.

    @Joe: Sure. Even in the pros, free agency changed everything. But even most 5-star football players coming out of high school are made more famous by playing for Alabama and Ohio State rather than the reverse. Players come and go; it’s the longstanding tradition of the sport that makes them marketable. And the most marketable will make millions in the pros. It’s really the tweeners—good enough in college to cash in on their fame but not good enough to be a big pro prospect—and those whose careers are cut short by injury in school that are getting screwed under the current system.

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  6. Michael Cain says:

    Women’s sports, outside of maybe a handful of college basketball programs, are a money loser.

    Odd programs in odd places, too. Nebraska’s women’s volleyball team makes money. But they have more Final 4 appearances than anyone except Stanford, and have sold out the 8,000-seat arena where they play home games every time since it opened.

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  7. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Cain: I should have added that the Huskers sell out the women’s volleyball games at what are by far the highest ticket prices for the sport in the country.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s really just big-time football and basketball that will change radically and largely in ways fans and the vast majority of athletes won’t like.

    Sure. Division 3 sports are, on balance, a great thing for a University. Division 1 is where 99% of the problems lie. But that’s what we are talking about here.

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  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    It’s hard to feel sympathy for the impending collapse of a system that enriches a small number on the efforts of young adults. The NBA is trending toward a system of a minor league, similar to baseball and hockey, where the athlete can choose whether to go to college or enter a professional apprenticeship. The D-League already exists and it is expected that the facade of the athlete spending one year in college or waiting a year before entering the draft and joining the D-League will end.

    Football is the bug bear, as the typical college age player is not physically capable of competing at a professional level. But for football, is can lead to some enterprising entrepreneur to create a post high school minor league, in the model of the independent baseball leagues.

    It is premature to assume that the riches of college sports will automatically flow to a handful of college powers, the marketplace will have something to say about that.

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  10. Michael Cain says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    But for football, is can lead to some enterprising entrepreneur to create a post high school minor league, in the model of the independent baseball leagues.

    The SEC minor league. The Big Ten minor league. As lead tenants in a bunch of existing huge stadiums. But formally separated from the universities.

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  11. grumpy realist says:

    The “amateurism” of college sports was already nothing more than a mask slapped on top of a massive money-making machine, harnessed by greed and riding on the labor of young adults. Yank out football and basketball, make those professional and under an apprentice system, and leave the rest alone. When you’re going to college and spending more effort and time on sports than on your education, it’s time for the house of cards to be shut down.

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  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    It’s legally and morally correct but will radically transform the sports landscape.

    Massive understatement.
    I wonder, for instance, what will happen to recruiting rules??? This could open a lot of doors that have previously, and wisely, been closed.

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  13. EddieInCA says:

    I’m all for this. I’ve been saying it for years. Had this rule been in place in the early 2000’s, LenDale White and Matt Leinart woudl have made several millions dollars in jersey sales alone while they were at USC. Neither of them ended up with a pro-career despite being “Can’t Miss Pro Prospects”. In the case of LenDale, he barely sniffed the NFL. But during his three years at USC he could have made alot of money.

    Ryan Leaf
    Johnny Manziel
    Brian Bosworth

    All could have cashed in for being larger than life in college. None had an impact in the NFL.

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  14. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA: Most of those players were 1st round picks in the days before the CBA capped their pay. They did fine. LenDale White was only a second rounder so he would certainly have benefitted.

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  15. de stijl says:

    @Barry:

    Extreme institutionalist outlook.

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  16. de stijl says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Minnesota hockey makes big bucks. Womens and mens.

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  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I am amazed anyone can see any good whatsoever that comes with these multi-million dollar coaches

    I remember a study I saw showing that winning a college football or basketball championship results in a statistically significant increase over the following two years in everything from non-athletic donations to amount of grant dollars received to the quality of grad students applying to the school.

    None of this makes rational sense, but the halo effect is a thing, so it’s pretty clear that being successful at sports causes a school to be perceived as better at everything else.

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  18. Slugger says:

    The NCAA should lead in the effort to preserve amateurism. The current CEO is paid $2.7 million per year. I am sure that there are plenty of people just in Indianapolis who would do the job simply for the love of sport and good seats to the final four every year.

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  19. Markedman says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I remember a study I saw showing that winning a college football or basketball championship results in a statistically significant increase over the following two years in everything from non-athletic donations to amount of grant dollars received to the quality of grad students applying to the school.

    Alumnus donations re: sports is probably the biggest corrupting influence on Universities. “You want that big donation? Then why you goin’ fer the star running back on this disciplinary thing? Y’all know those bitches be lying about him!”

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  20. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Markedman:

    This wasn’t even discussing things like that. This is more someone making a donation to the engineering school who doesn’t even like football will still subconsciously think better about the school just because they heard about them winning the big game on the radio while driving to work.

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  21. grumpy realist says:

    I was a T.A. for many years at a Big 10 school and had football athletes in my classes every now and them. NONE of them ever tried to use their status to get advantages–the closest to that was one of them asking me if he could take a pop quiz at a different time because he had practice (scheduled by the coach) during one of the recitation sections.

    (The biggest PITAs were the students who didn’t like the grades they got on their exams and had endless excuses about why what they put down on paper wasn’t “an accurate reflection of what they knew.” We were pretty hard-nosed about that: “sorry, we can’t tell the difference between flaking out and simply not knowing the stuff. Better luck next time.”

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Cain:

    The SEC minor league. The Big Ten minor league. As lead tenants in a bunch of existing huge stadiums. But formally separated from the universities.

    Probably not formally separated from the universities. As “college teams,” they’re part or a “non-profit organization.” There’s not enough money in either college football or bazzetboll to provide returns/tax write-offs to plutocratic asshole owners, astronomical salaries to (head) coaches, AND the payments that the players will need if they’re not disguised as “needy and deserving scholars” doing their best to claw themselves into a share of the American dream. The universities are what’s holding the scam together now; you can’t just throw them out like a used Kleenex or paper towel.

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  23. EddieInCA says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    @Michael Cain:

    The NBA G-League will soon turn College Basketball into truly an amateur sport again. Why go to college out of high school to play basketball if you can get paid to play until you’re of age to get drafted. LaMelo ball was certainly not hurt by ignoring college and instead playing professionally overseas. Luka Doncic didn’t miss out by ignoring college and playing professionally.

    Why make money for Kentucky or UCLA or Michigan when you can make money for yourself, and sign endorsement deals for yourself?

    On what planet should the highest paid employees in a state be a football coach.

    The follow are STATE employees:
    Dabo Sweeney, Head Football Coach South Carolina – 9.3 million per year.
    John Calipary, Head Basketball Coach at Kentucky – 9.3 million
    Nick Saban, Head Football Coach at Alabama – 8.9 million
    Jim Harbaugh, Head Football Coach at Michigan – 7.5 million
    Jimbo Fisher, Head Football Coach at Texas – 7.5 million

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/09/23/these-are-the-highest-paid-public-employees-in-every-state/114091534/

    In almost every state, the highest paid employee is a football coach. In those states where it’s not, it’s because there isn’t a big football program in the state.

    That’s obscene.

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  24. EddieInCA says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Actually, that’s not true. At schools like Alabama and LSU, the football program is the generating revenue force for the school. LSU football, if left alone and didn’t have to give it’s profits back to the university

    https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/sports/lsu/article_c37fcc14-5f3a-11eb-b28d-3329ce081e8d.html

    The football team, with a net income of $53.66 million, was the only LSU athletic program to produce a net profit in fiscal 2020, which began on July 1, 2019 and ended June 30, 2020. The two other programs that generally produce a profit — men’s basketball and baseball — both finished in the red when their seasons were partially canceled by the pandemic.

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  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    Another way to look at the sports thing:

    Penn State, as an example, has an annual operating budget of a bit over $7 billion dollars.
    To pick a random S&P500 company, Activision-Blizzard has an annual budget a bit over $8 billion, so roughly similarly sized organizations.

    Activistion-Blizzard spends $270 million per year on marketing. Penn State spends about $14 million per year on “strategic communications”.

    If you look at the entire athletic department ($151 million) as an advertising expense, they’re still making out better than their corporate peers.

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  26. EddieInCA says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The corporate peers don’t use unpaid labor for the generation of a huge chunk of their revenue.

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  27. JohnMcC says:

    An op-ed in the WaPo this afternoon by Mr Eric Posner imagines that the heart of this ruling actually is about employee rights vs employer cartels. He says that the Supreme Court has finally decided that workers whose bosses join together to control wages have grounds for suit and that the SC has every reason to transfer this judgement to any group of large employers who combine to control wages.

    Does he know which party nominated the majority?

    What is it they say on the internet? Oh yeah: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    But it might be interesting reading if you’re inclined.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/06/22/ncaa-supreme-court-wage-suppression-monopoly/

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  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Agreed, I’m all for paying the players (I’d also suggest making them take classes while playing is a problem too, each season should grant a year of education to be taken when their athletic career completes and they can focus on being a full time student).

    I’m more answering the question of how the universities benefit from being involved in sports. If you look at it primarily as advertising, it makes more sense.

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  29. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Although now that I think of it, Activision-Blizzard does actually use unpaid labor for the generation of a huge chunk of their revenue (aka Crunch).

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  30. Mimai says:

    I’ve long thought it was unjust to prevent college athletes from benefiting financially. In my moral universe, this has always been a clear wrong. It’s also not so simple in the real world. But that should not prevent us from slouching towards justice.

    I played D1 soccer at a uni with a big football program. Our soccer team was more renowned, consistently highly ranked, etc. But the football team had perks. Oh did they have perks.

    We bitched about this, of course, but were under no illusions about who buttered the bread. We did get some of football’s “leftovers” and also benefited from the facilities. But our travel accommodations, food situation, etc. was a joke by comparison. [cue tiny violins]

    There were always whispers about football players getting hooked up by boosters and such. But it’s not like soccer was on the up and up either. At least half of our roster was international. They had all played “professional” (ie, been paid) before coming.

    Every fall, right before the compliance meeting, our coaches would explain to the internationals that they should check the “no” box about previous professional experience, pay, etc.

    In addition, most of these guys got stipends from their home countries for attending uni in the states. I’m talking $10k range. And many of them were already on full scholarship. So they had comparably large amounts of fun money.

    My point, other than to reminisce, is that college athletics is infected with sketchiness from top to bottom. Which is not to deny that football and basketball are outliers and, thus, deserve the scrutiny they are getting.

    Still though, there’s a lot of good here. And a lot of good people with good intentions. And it paid my way and allowed me to graduate without debt, so there’s that. And that, of course, makes me a non-neutral observer.

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  31. EddieInCA says:

    @Mimai:

    I was a great high school football player. I was the LA City Player of the week twice my senior year. Not good enough for a D-1 school, but good enough for a very, very good JC program, where I played for two years. My JC team my freshman year was ranked 4th in the nation among JCs that year. My quarterback took Iowa to the Rose Bowl the following season (1981 if I remember correctly). Gordie Bohannon was his name. That JC team sent six guys to the NFL. Yep, a junior college. The guy I played behind my freshman year ended up playing three seasons for the Atlanta Falcons.

    In my sophomore season, I was the starting wide receiver and punt returner. I had a very, very good year, and got three offers for full rides at D-1 and D-2 schools. But all three offers were to agricultural or technical schools and I wanted to study film and TV. So I turned them down and walked on at UCLA.

    I lasted 11 days before realizing I was too small, too slow, and not nearly athletic enough. But what I saw of the perks during those 11 days made me jealous the rest of the time I was at UCLA. And that’s nothing compared to the perks today. The new training facility at UCLA is ridiculous. We filmed there last season, and it’s a sick, sick, sick facility.

    https://uclabruins.com/facilities/the-wasserman-football-center/14

    Go through the photos. No way ANY public school should be spending this much on athletics. And I say that as a former jock.

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  32. Mimai says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Those are great stories! Thanks.

    Funny, JC and NAIA programs have their own unique sketchiness. I swear, some of the best soccer teams in the country are NAIA. Different rules allows for all kinds of stuff.

    Your decisions seem to have worked out well for you. And yet, I suspect you occasionally wonder about “lost possible Eddies” who accepted those offers.

    Those UCLA digs are impressive. I’ve seen quite a few “WOW!” facilities at the places you might expect. But also some at places that make you tilt your head (looking at you Northwestern).

    A very close friend played basketball at an SEC school. Good grief! Chartered flights everywhere. Ruth’s Chris or the equivalent every night on the road (and you could order all you want).

    I guess one can take solace in knowing that this came from an entirely different pot of money than that used to fund the other stuff (you know, like libraries, labs, etc), but still…

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  33. EddieInCA says:

    @Mimai:

    Funny, JC and NAIA programs have their own unique sketchiness.

    I nicknamed my JC “College for wayward D-1 guys too stupid to stay in D-1”. We had a tight end who was an absolute beast, 6-5, 265, who could run a 4.6 forty, with about 7% bodyfat, and could dunk a basketball behind his head from a standing start under the rim. The guy was a freak of nature. But he had a 10 cent brain. For two years, all the classes he took were taught by football coaches: “Theory of Football”, “Intro to Weightlifting”, “Advanced Aerobics”, “Tai Chi”, “American Cinema of the 60″s”. These were actual classes. But it kept him eligible to play. End of two years, he got a full scholarship to Tennessee. Played three years (one redshirt season), before moving back to LA and becoming a security guard. I’m surprised he found his way back home. He was dumb as a stump. But the coaches kept him eligible.

    We had a few of those guys… Back then, we had alot of guys that liked weed more than they liked playing football.

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  34. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @EddieInCA: I played JUCO basketball at a prop 40 program. I walked on– but the scholarship guys were the same as the guys you described. D-1 talents (some even NBA-level physical abilities) but kindergarten brains and emotional intelligence. About 1/3 of them went on to play D1 and/or Professional ball overseas and now lead regular lives–the rest went back to their hometowns to fight their self-defeating habits and tendencies.

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  35. de stijl says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Given my stated past statements about conformity, I am loathe to admit this, but I played high school football.

    I was actually quite good at it. Free safety. One week I got defensive player of the week for Minneapolis Metro. For a player at South an unexpected honor because we routinely got smoked.

    I got lucky in that we actually over-powered them at nearly every position. I had two legit interceptions and a third where something hit my chest randomly when I was covering my guy. I just grabbed it out of instinct. No skill or strategy, just grabbed it because it was there.

    Bunch of tackles because, again, we over-powered them. Once I had the opportunity to just pummel a guy hard at full speed for maximum impact and I pulled up and just smother tackled him easily. I had no desire to put somebody in the hospital for a stupid game. Seriously, the way he was situated and given my speed and trajectory I probably would have broken his spine.

    Punk rock kids can play football. Hockey, too.

    I got a concussion once in another game. I was lying face down and kept trying to sit up into the ground. That does not work, but I kept trying until somebody rolled me onto my back.

    I quite enjoyed it actually. Despite the jock culture thing.

    I dated a cheerleader. It’s very embarrassing. It’s not shameful by any means, but it is not who I am or representative of me. It was a thing I liked to do and was vaguely competent at.

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  36. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    In almost every state, the highest paid employee is a football coach. In those states where it’s not, it’s because there isn’t a big football program in the state.

    But that’s not really true. Nick Saban actually just got a raise, so he makes even more than your source shows. But it’s not coming from the taxpayers of Alabama. Rather, it comes from the athletic budget, which is generated from tickets, broadcast rights, and the like. And Saban, as absurdly much as he earns, has almost certainly generated more money for both the university and the athletic department than he makes.

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  37. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    No way ANY public school should be spending this much on athletics. And I say that as a former jock.

    The arms race for facilities is absurd. But it’s seen as a major recruiting tool to get the unpaid labor to come in. And, again, it’s paid out of the massive revenues of the athletic budget.

    I think star players in revenue sports should be compensated with more than a full ride. But players flock to Nick Saban’s program because he has a long track record of developing top players into top pro prospects. He’s better at that than just about any coach in the country. Lots of schools with comparable recruiting class rankings don’t develop the talent as well, as measured by where they get drafted.

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  38. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    But players flock to Nick Saban’s program because he has a long track record of developing top players into top pro prospects. He’s better at that than just about any coach in the country. Lots of schools with comparable recruiting class rankings don’t develop the talent as well, as measured by where they get drafted.

    Currently.

    That ebbs and flows. In the 70’s, it was Oklahoma and Nebraska and USC churning out top NFL prospects. In the 80’s it was Ohio State, Michigan and Texas doing the same. In the 90’s it was Miami, and Texas. In the 200o’s, it was USC and Oklahoma. Currently, it’s Alabama, Auburn, Clemson. In a few years, it will be someone else.

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  39. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    That ebbs and flows. In the 70’s, it was Oklahoma and Nebraska and USC churning out top NFL prospects. In the 80’s it was Ohio State, Michigan and Texas doing the same. In the 90’s it was Miami, and Texas. In the 200o’s, it was USC and Oklahoma. Currently, it’s Alabama, Auburn, Clemson. In a few years, it will be someone else.

    Oh, absolutely. Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney are simply the best at what they do right now but Saban can’t live forever. And it’s quite possible that a Lincoln Riley or Steve Sarkisian or someone else will be The Guy next. I’m just saying that it’s not a one-way street: Saban provides genuine value for those who play for him and, indeed, continues to mentor those who want it after they’ve graduated.

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  40. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m just saying that it’s not a one-way street: Saban provides genuine value for those who play for him and, indeed, continues to mentor those who want it after they’ve graduated.

    I often wonder, like Hero CEO’s, how much of their success if actually their doing, and how much is just that they happened to be there while others did things. One big difference between Alabama and other schools is that they pay their coordinators and position coaches significantly more, and thus end up with people in those positions that would be looking to move to an HC job at most other schools.

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  41. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    There’s also the self-licking ice cream cone aspects of Alabama recruiting. Alabama gets the best recruits because it wins, which means it is more likely to win, which means it is more likely to get better recruits.

    If players were randomly assigned to schools, would Alabama still be where it is because of coaching talent, or would their be a regression to mean because they only have average coaching talent and no longer have superior recruits?

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  42. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    And Saban, as absurdly much as he earns, has almost certainly generated more money for both the university and the athletic department than he makes.

    I like the way you distinguish the athletic department from the similarly-named but unrelated University.

    For me, the important question for a public university is “would it be a better educational institution with its current athletic programs, or with something more like Cal Tech’s?” If the answer is “the latter” then public funds are being misused. I have yet to see a convincing argument for the former.

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  43. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    For me, the important question for a public university is “would it be a better educational institution with its current athletic programs, or with something more like Cal Tech’s?”

    Almost certainly the former.

    The Athletic’s Andy Staples had a great piece a couple weeks back titled “Nick Saban’s salary is one of the biggest bargains in sports (the numbers don’t lie).” Pretty sure it’s paywalled but here’s the gist:

    When Saban started at Alabama in 2007, the incoming freshman class included 3,035 students from Alabama and 1,503 out-of-state students. Alabama’s fall 2020 class included 2,701 students from Alabama and 3,806 from outside the state. Why is that significant? Because out-of-state students pay about three times what in-state students pay in tuition. What does that have to do with Saban? The Flutie Effect.

    For those too young to remember the Hail Mary Doug Flutie threw in 1984 to beat Miami and sew up the Heisman Trophy, just enjoy this play. (Those old enough to remember should soak it in, too; my mom yelled at me for jumping up and down on the couch after watching it live as a 6-year-old.)

    In the two years after Flutie’s Heisman win — and that signature play — applications to Boston College surged by 30 percent. Why? Because all the coverage of Flutie brought national attention and caused more people to check out the Jesuit university in New England. St. Joseph’s saw an uptick after Jameer Nelson led the Hawks basketball team to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2004.

    Alabama’s increase in out-of-state applications and out-of-state enrollees isn’t all because of Saban. On the contrary, the school has aggressively recruited out-of-state students and dramatically increased its spending on merit scholarships to lure highly qualified out-of-state students. There may be a debate to be had about state institutions trying to boost revenue by recruiting out-of-state students, but this isn’t the Chronicle of Higher Education. That is the strategy Alabama chose, and that strategy has worked as well as it has in part because of Saban. The Crimson Tide’s football success has provided wall-to-wall advertising for the school. Alabama has won the national title in six of the past 12 college football seasons. It has played for the national title in eight of the past 12. It has recorded double-digit wins in 12 of the past 12. Any high schooler who has flicked on ESPN in the fall since 2008 — Saban’s first successful year at Alabama — probably has gotten bombarded with images of Alabama’s football team and Alabama’s campus. That’s a huge advantage when trying to convince students to move away from their homes for college.

    According to figures from Alabama’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, Alabama’s total enrollment has risen from 31,747 in 2011 to 37,842 in 2020. In 2011, 11,879 came from outside Alabama. In 2020, 22,170 came from outside Alabama. So let’s just take that increase in out-of-state enrollment. Currently, an out-of-state student pays $30,250 in annual tuition. An in-state student pays $10,780 in annual tuition. That’s a difference of $19,470. Using the current tuition rates, the increase of 10,291 out-of-state students is worth an additional $200.4 million a year to the school. Even if the school spends $150 million on merit scholarships — it spent $136.3 million on such scholarships in 2016, but that figure is not broken down by the residential status of the recipient — and $100 million of that is expressly spent to lure out-of-state students, that still nets the school $100 million. And Saban deserves credit for a chunk of that. If he isn’t winning constantly and increasing awareness of the university, many of those out-of-state students wouldn’t be willing to consider it and wouldn’t send applications.

    Like it or not, Alabama is a much bigger, richer school that attracts better faculty and students because of its success on the football field. The average SAT and ACT scores have gone up considerably under Saban’s tenure—while significantly increasing the number of enrolled students.

    This is pretty true across the board. When Troy State went from IAA to IA football, Steven Taylor and I both thought it was nuts. The school is too small. The required attendance at home games exceeds the population of the county in which the campus resides. And yet the move has undeniably made Troy a more attractive school.

    Like it or not, Alabama is never going to be Cal Tech. Tuscaloosa, Alabama simply doesn’t have and is unlikely ever going to be able to attract enough industry and talent in the way that the Los Angeles area can.

    It’s unlikely to even become a peer of the University of Virginia. Virginia is a richer state with, perhaps unfairly, less of the historical baggage. But football success has made it a more prestigious, attractive university than it would otherwise be.

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  44. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    There’s also the self-licking ice cream cone aspects of Alabama recruiting. Alabama gets the best recruits because it wins, which means it is more likely to win, which means it is more likely to get better recruits.

    If players were randomly assigned to schools, would Alabama still be where it is because of coaching talent, or would their be a regression to mean because they only have average coaching talent and no longer have superior recruits?

    Nick Saban would be the first to tell you that great players are a cornerstone of the program. He spends a lot of time recruiting and is great at it. He hires coaches who are great recruiters. Talent acquisition is Job 1 of building a winning program.

    But Saban has done better than any other coach at turning great recruiting classes into winning teams. He has won six national championships since 2009. And lost in the championship game twice more in that time. Nobody has even come close.

    Ohio State is also fantastic at recruiting. It has one title (at the expense of Alabama) and one championship game loss (to Alabama, this past January) over the same span.

    EDITED TO ADD: I found this story from 2018 that adds detail:

    There are 241 247Sports Composite five-star players from college football in that period – the elite of elite coming out of high school.

    Alabama, unsurprisingly, signed the highest total of those at 29. But that’s not the important number. To truly grade development you must observe the number of those recruits who became first-round picks. That’s the full college cycle of development — a choice prospect comes in and a highly-regarded NFL talent comes out.

    Fourteen of those 29 eventually became a first-round pick in Tuscaloosa, a rate of 48.3 percent that doesn’t count six other Crimson Tide five-stars that were second-round picks.

    For some needed perspective on that number, let’s look at how the other FBS teams fared.

    Take away Alabama’s 29 five-star players from that window, and there are 212 five-star recruits. Some schools have had a lot (Florida State: 24) in that 2008-15 period, while others have had just one (13 different schools). Taken together, the number of first-round picks from that five-star pool minus Alabama is 36.

    That’s a hit rate of only 17 percent.

    Think about that. Alabama’s five-star recruits are picked in the first round at a rate of 48.3 percent, while five-star recruits that go to any other school are selected at a 17-percent clip. A five-star prospect who picks Alabama is more than doubly likely be selected in the first round than if he goes anywhere else.

    I don’t have more recent figures but Alabama has put far and away more players into the 1st round since than any other team.

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