National Collegiate Athletic Association

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2010, file photo, former UCLA basketball player Ed O'BannonJr. sits in his office in Henderson, Nev. Five years after the former UCLA star filed his antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, it goes to trial Monday, June 9, 2014, in a California courtroom.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The recent start of the O’Bannon v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) federal trial comes on the heels of several major legal announcements regarding intercollegiate sports. The first concerned an agreement by Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) and the Collegiate Licensing Company, the NCAA’s licensing agent, to pay out $40 million to those college football and basketball players who appeared in EA Sports’ video games after 2003. EA Sports and the NCAA ended their licensing agreement last year. Moreover, the NCAA announced this June 9 that it had agreed to a settlement of $20 million to end similar claims against it regarding the video games. In addition, Northwestern University scholarship football players were recognized early this spring as employees with a right to unionize by the Chicago regional arm of the National Labor Relations Board.

A win by the athletes in the O’Bannon case would accelerate this strong momentum toward change in intercollegiate sport. In the class action lawsuit, former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon argues on behalf of his fellow plaintiffs that the NCAA violates U.S. antitrust law by profiting from the use of athletes’ names, images and likenesses in various media outlets. The NCAA maintains that student-athletes are just that — students first, and athletes second and that they are fairly compensated through scholarships, stipends and the opportunity to compete. The athletes, on the other hand, believe they are entitled to compensation far beyond those benefits given the level of financial success enjoyed by the NCAA and its member institutions. As it currently stands, NCAA athletes sign a waiver relinquishing their intellectual property rights upon entering college. 

The landscape of intercollegiate sports — including athletics here at UT — will change dramatically if the NCAA loses the O’Bannon case. And most legal experts believe that athletes will indeed come out on top if the trial proceeds to conclusion. This makes a multi-million dollar settlement highly likely. By agreeing to such a painful sum, the NCAA might just put off what many are already calling its day of reckoning.

Hunt is an assistant professor of kinesiology and health education. Mueller is a graduate student in the same department.

I think I speak on behalf of most of the UT and A&M communities when I say that I grieve the end of one of the greatest football rivalries in American history. Regardless of your opinion on the traditional contest, the annual Thanksgiving football game played between the two schools was truly ingrained in Texan culture and athleticism. It led to a healthy competition that physically brought communities together and created a substantial influx of money into Austin and College Station every year.

On Jan. 28, state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, a Texas A&M graduate, filed a bill, H.B. 778, that would mandate an annual out-of-conference football game between the respective universities. Though the idea of having the schools play each other once again is not necessarily bad, the proposed law itself is poorly designed. In the text of the bill, which is only slightly over a page long, Guillen states that whichever team refuses to play in the game will not be able to award “athletic scholarship[s], grant[s], or similar financial assistance funded with state money” during the following academic year. If the bill were to pass, those provisions would take effect Sept. 1.

Guillen’s proposed punishments for the teams unwilling to play a UT-A&M game are disappointing because not only do they completely limit the bill’s chances of passing, but they also cast doubt about its author’s grasp of simple logic and logistics.

UT’s out-of-conference schedule is completely booked until 2020 and A&M’s until the end of 2014. If H.B. 778 were to come into effect September 2013, both schools would be hit with fines and penalties. UT would have to cancel one out-of-conference game for each of the next seven years, thus paying the respective teams alimony for rescheduling inconvenience and for breaking media contracts. The same would go for Texas A&M. The bill does not address whether the state would reimburse UT and A&M for fines and penalties, but that prospect seems doubtful.

If H.B. 778 were to pass, the question of its constitutionality might arise. Does the state even have authority to manipulate the scheduling of National Collegiate Athletic Association games? On which legal clause can they claim control of this situation? Another point of interest is whether the state has any right to govern NCAA scholarships. They are often the product of an interstate activity, over which state governments have little authority. It may even result in student-athletes suing the state.

 Obviously, a strong demand for this game and tradition to continue persists. People want to see the two schools play each other again. I think the same goes for the powers that be within the NCAA. There is a lot of money that can be made from this rivalry and history proves it. So in reality, we don’t really need legislation for this rivalry to continue — fate will eventually bring it about.

When Rep. Guillen was asked specifically why he filed the bill, he responded, “This game is as much a Texas tradition as cowboy boots and barbecue. The purpose of the bill is to put the eyes of Texas upon our two greatest universities to restore this sacred Texas tradition.” So, obviously, Rep. Guillen cares about his constituents and their appreciation of Texas football culture. But, there are other ways of going about achieving Guillen’s goals, and dubious legislation is not one of them. I hope prudence saves the day and that this bill does not even make it past committee. It would do more harm than good.

Markey is an RTF sophomore from Houston.

“First it giveth, then it taketh away.” The rock band Queens of the Stone Age lyrics sum up the situation at Pennsylvania State University.

On July 23, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced punitive measures against Penn State’s athletic program in response to the university’s internal investigation, which found administrators and coaches covered up the sexual abuse scandal surrounding former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, banned the school from participating in post-season play for the next four years and scrubbed the Nittany Lions’ football wins from the past 14 years of NCAA records.

Many cheered, but the most outspoken critics questioned whether the NCAA overstepped its bounds with a too-harsh punishment.

More important and a less popular discussion was not the NCAA fine’s fairness, but how American universities have reached the point where athletic departments’ can cough up a $60 million fine.

At UT, $60 million quadruples the money allocated to the university library system in the 2011-12 budget, and further dwarfs the teaching budgets apportioned to many schools and colleges campus-wide.

As with Penn State’s, but few others nationwide, UT’s athletic department is self-sustaining and isn’t subsidized by the university. And while Penn State’s $53.2 million annual revenue from football – which, not coincidentally, is roughly the amount of the NCAA’s fine – may seem large, it’s $20 million short of UT’s football program revenue from the 2010-11 fiscal year, the most recent period for which data is available publicly.

For thousands of students and alumni, college athletics are central to the university experience. UT’s athletic program contributes funds to the university’s general budget. Eager fans purchase season tickets and officially licensed UT merchandise (the royalties from which contribute to the athletic department’s yearly budget surplus). It is difficult to advocate completely forsaking the department, which earns yearly revenues more than twice the nearly $78 million annual budget for the College of Liberal Arts, the school with the largest budget allocation on campus.

Robert Maynard Hutchins, the reform-minded chancellor of the University of Chicago from 1945-1951 famously said: “There are two ways for a university to be great: It must either have a great football team or a great president.”

Hutchins abolished the University of Chicago’s intercollegiate football program and built a world renowned institution of higher education.

At Penn State, the football program and its former head coach, Joe Paterno, provided the school with millions of dollars’ worth of scholarships and endowment funds and also gave the school a source of pride and identity. But with its role in the Sandusky scandal, the same football program, the main event in State College, PA or “Happy Valley,” took from the campus what it once gave—money and morale.

Penn State and the University of Chicago teach our university not to conflate the success of our athletic teams with the success of our academic departments. The health of one, financial or otherwise, is often confused with the health of the other ­, a mistake.

The Texas Constitution mandates the establishment of “a university of the first class ... for the promotion of literature, and the arts and sciences.”

Having a football program that solely perpetuates its own success without significantly contributing to UT’s stated larger mission sidesteps the original justification for the university’s existence.

Penn State also shows that college football, where the stakes and dollar figures are so high, developed a culture of loyalty so unyielding that the welfare of disadvantaged children became a secondary consideration. Few athletic programs operate under stakes as high as those that existed in pre-scandal Penn State, but UT’s is among the few that do. The cautionary tale of Happy Valley is one from which UT must learn.