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Pay for play? Army surely holds edge

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College athletes being paid. It is both inconceivable and perhaps fair. The NCAA and its schools make billions off the full stadiums and monstrous TV contracts that permit their sports serfs to pass and tackle and hit jump shots. The issue might be resolved in the current Ed O’Bannon case, in which the former UCLA basketball player is the lead plaintiff in an antitrust suit against the NCAA in a case that may determine whether college athletes should receive payment for their services.

Yes, they now receive a fully paid 4-year education plus room, board, books and the chance to make some rather impressive coast-to-coast travel. That’s the deal colleges can offer when they target a player whom they’d like to wear their school colors. And some of those school colors are pretty hot.

The judgment of this case may determine the future of college athletics.

Nearly five years ago, O’Bannon sued the NCAA, video-game maker EA Sports, and the Collegiate Licensing Company, which handles licensing rights for many colleges. Lawyers for O’Bannon reached a $40 million settlement with EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company – but the case against the NCAA continues.

O’Bannon led the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA. championship in his senior season. He was drafted ninth overall by the New Jersey Nets, but his career never materialized.

Several years later, O’Bannon recognized himself on a video game and was troubled that his likeness was being used without his consent -- or payment. The law suit was filed in July 2009. He was later joined by current and former players, including Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson, and the lawsuit was certified as a class-action.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking an injunction to prove that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by conspiring with its partners to block college athletes from being paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses in broadcasts and video games.

They are seeking an injunction that halts NCAA rules prohibiting universities from paying players for their publicity rights. There are thousands of past and current college athletes – not to mention those who will eventually make it – whose financial future hangs in the balance. And what happens if it’s ruled that college players are entitled to payment for their services? It’s open to discussion.

For instance, what about a salary cap? Surely schools from the Big 12 would be in the best position to go after what might be characterized as the free-agent pool of high school athletes. They have 12 big-time, sold-out football programs and a hefty income from men’s basketball. Just look at Michigan. Its home games are played in front of crowds that can exceed 115,000. Unless a cap was implemented, Michigan would surely be in a similar position than that of the Yankees; they could pick and choose, and, if necessary, just lie in waiting before becoming the highest bidder. Ohio State, another Big 12 team with a home-seating capacity of almost 105,000, could surely compete with its decades-long rival.

The Big East was once the master of the college basketball universe. Now, the league has been both stripped and expanded, and five of its teams have as much connection to the east as a team in Texas would have to the PAC 10.

For years, from the Big East’s very founding, Syracuse and its perpetually packed Carrier Dome, provided its conference with a steady income. Now, Syracuse is doing similarly for the Atlantic Coast Conference; perhaps someone could explain how far Syracuse is from the Atlantic coast. Of course, the Big East has not been loyal to its geographic history. Last year, as part of an on-going realignment, the non-football playing schools formed their own league, which retained the Big East name. Three of its new members – Creighton, DePaul and Marquette – are in the central time zone. Creighton is in Nebraska, for goodness sakes!

LeBron James went straight from high school to the NBA, where he was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. But what had he decided to spend a year or two in college, figuring his NBA money would still be waiting for him. What sort of salary would he have commanded? How many schools could have afforded to pay it?

And what about a player who is recruited and is projected, say, as a back-up small forward? But in the middle of his sophomore year, he emerges as a star. Then what? Would he have the right to demand salary arbitration?

Pro basketball players now have incentive clauses in which their pay can be determined by having a certain number of rebounds, or how high they finish in the MVP voting or even if they are selected to the All-Star team. Could a school promise a player a salary bonus if he leads his team to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16, or, even, to the finals? And surely leading the nation in points or free-throw percentage or blocked shots must be worth something.

And what about members of the women’s lacrosse teams or the men’s track teams? They are surely working as hard as their football and basketball counterparts, but you’re not likely to see either sport featured prominently on ESPN. Should they receive pay? If so, how much? After all, they are playing on teams that don’t generate much income, and are likely money-losing teams.

Now we get to Army. Not only do its students have a job waiting for them upon graduation – though spending a year or so in Afghanistan or other vacation spots in the region is a bit challenging-- they are (oh my) paid0

.In fairness, all Army cadets do receive a stipend, but they are responsible for paying for their own computers, books, uniforms and laundry, among other things. Incoming cadets have $8,000 worth of expenses before they start the academic year in mid-August. On the average cadets pay out over $27,000 in costs and fees over four years.

All cadets are paid the same $1,017 gross pay each month, but many of their expenses are front loaded. As such, the net pay for seniors is highest -- $525 per month. For juniors, $450; sophomores, $350; freshmen, $200.

So, until the NCAA need pay up, it might be in a player’s best interest to make a run at West Point. Of course, that Middle East can be a tad hazardous.

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