A week ago, judge Claudia Wilken shook up the landscape of the NCAA as we know it, and college sports are ultimately better for it.
Wilken’s 99-page ruling in O’Bannon v. NCAA placed an injunction on a ban against the compensation of student athletes, allowing schools to pay players up to $5,000 per year for potentially a total of $20,000. This amount may be placed in a trust for when the athletes graduate and student-athletes are still not permitted to sign endorsement deals without losing their amateur status.
The ruling is, on the surface, a win for amateur athletes. It finally gives some student-athletes the opportunity to claim a portion of lucrative television and licensing deals that have long made conferences and universities the beneficiary of amateur athlete performance. But unless those revenues are distributed among all student-athletes – male, female, revenue, non-revenue – the system will not be entirely just.
For an institution like UCLA, there is plenty of money to go around. In 2011, the Pac-12 inked a 12-year agreement with both Fox and ESPN. The deal is worth approximately $3 billion overall – and about $21 million per institution per year – making it the largest deal of its kind at the time.
The deal also left room for the creation of the Pac-12 Networks, and despite the conference’s inability to strike a deal with DirecTV, the Pac-12 reported $334 million in revenue for the 2013 fiscal year, distributing $228 million to its 12-member institutions.
The NCAA announced it plans to appeal Wilken’s ruling, but for now, heavily marketed student-athletes will finally get some of the revenues they deserve. It’s a step in the right direction, but it needs to be taken further.
Nowhere in Wilken’s 99-page document does the word “female” appear. “Non-revenue” and “Title IX” are likewise absent as the ruling exclusively makes reference to football and men’s basketball programs. The two are unmistakably the biggest NCAA money-makers, but what about the other programs?
The revenue scheme is no different at UCLA, but if the university moves to start paying its athletes, it can’t forget about 19 other athletic programs and treat these athletes like second-class citizens.
UCLA prides itself on being the most decorated NCAA Division I institution in terms of national titles. It’s now even a branding tool – “Champions Made Here.” But of those record 111 titles, 100 come from sports other than football and men’s basketball.
Some non-revenue sports, like softball (11 titles), women’s water polo (7 titles) and men’s volleyball (19 titles) even helped put their respective sports on the map. Those contributions are not monetary, but they are real and they are lasting.
To fully honor that tradition, the programs that made them happen should be a part of this victory for NCAA student-athletes just like football and men’s basketball.