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MORGANTOWN - I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV. And, truth be told, even the lawyers in the room probably haven't entirely grasped all of the ramifications of the O'Bannon decision handed down Friday, the one that in the strictest sense of competition paints the NCAA as the losing team.
But I also can't help but compare this to something West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen said just the other day. When he was asked about the frustration of losing so many close games over the last two seasons, he chose to point to the alternative.
"It's better than getting your ass kicked," Holgorsen said.
Well, the NCAA didn't get its hind quarters kicked, either. Shoot, perhaps the most surprising reaction to the decision was the NCAA's immediate we-will-appeal stance. Appeal what?
Again, this is complex; so much so that consequences of the decision and the branch issues that are sure to grow from it (Title IX implications and how it will be applied to athletes in non-revenue sports and at levels below FBS football and upper-tier Division I basketball, just to name a few) remain unclear. Other, pending litigation and the decisions that are rendered could also further complicate matters for college sports as we know it.
Ultimately, this could well be just the first brick falling from the structure that is the NCAA. Or maybe that body will adapt as it has always done, changing its rules to meet the times.
But for now let's just focus on the O'Bannon decision. For months, college administrators have been planning for doomsday scenarios. They have begun stockpiling funds and making contingency plans for the day that they would have to begin simply writing checks to athletes. West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck talked of what his school's athletes would and wouldn't be able to do as far as wearing school gear while they were out signing autographs or peddling used cars and how the university could probably prevent them from doing the same at strip clubs or for beer companies.
None of those fears were realized with the O'Bannon decision. Here are the pertinent parts of the decision handed down by federal judge Claudia Wilken:
-The NCAA can no longer prohibit FBS football and Division I basketball players from being paid for their names, imagines and likenesses (NIL). But the body can cap the amount athletes receive while in school, as long as that cap allows the athletes to reap the full cost of attendance.
-Schools can now deposit into a trust the licensing revenue generated by those same football and basketball players, capped at no less than $5,000 per year and payable when they leave school or their eligibility expires.
-And perhaps the biggest win for the NCAA was this: The body can continue to enforce rules prohibiting athletes from endorsing commercial products.
So much for Clint Trickett holding up his favorite duck call and saying, "I use it, and so should you!"
That last part is crucial to the decision. That would have been a game-changer for college athletics, having players vying for endorsement contracts. But it's actually not even the biggest win for the NCAA.
No, that would be the caps that Wilken put on the revenue that can be distributed to athletes - not less than the full cost of tuition while in school and $5,000 per year, per athlete in a trust fund.
Think about the former for a moment. Already the Power 5 conferences - the ones squarely targeted in this decision thanks to the references to FBS football players and Division I basketball players - already are on the cusp of providing athletes with stipends that will cover the full cost of tuition. That was among the primary reasons those schools were just granted limited autonomy by the NCAA, in order to provide that extra money.
In other words, the money that Wilken says must now be made available up to the full cost of tuition was already on the way. And guess what? Now the O'Bannon decision provides a revenue stream for that full-cost-of-tuition perk. If schools weren't sure how they were going to manage - or if they just didn't want to give up a slice of their TV riches - now all they have to do is figure a way to further market their players' NIL and use that money to pay the balance of their scholarships.
Am I missing something here?
Yes, there are far more questions than answers right now. Again, how all of this shakes out where Title IX is concerned is potentially explosive (read: costly). FBS football and Division I basketball also extends below the power conferences, so how it affects Conference USA and other schools remains to be seen.
But Wilken also gave the NCAA considerable latitude to enact rules governing this money. Rules can be established preventing players in the same recruiting class, for instance, from being offered different amounts of money. In other words, no bidding wars.
I said before that the most surprising reaction to the decision was the NCAA's immediate stance that it will appeal. In truth, of course, that's not really surprising. There are surely things to hash out here.
All in all, though, the NCAA and its schools should be breathing a sigh of relief. Yes, they lost, and in the process Wilken even chastised the group for trying to claim it was protecting long-held principles. As she almost sarcastically pointed out, the NCAA has changed its rules so many times - and quite often contradictory to its stated goals - that it's really hard to tell what its priorities are in regard to amateurism.
This decision will no doubt force the NCAA to again adjust those definitions. But it could have been a whole lot worse. The NCAA may have lost on the scoreboard, but boy, it was a far cry from a butt-kicking.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @dphickman1 on Twitter.