COVID, legislation, lawsuits signal change in college sports
The coronavirus was just one factor in a chain of events consuming college sports in 2020 and is poised to do more of it in 2021 and beyond.
The virus, combined with the harsh spotlight on racial inequality in the United States, exposed the exploitative side of a system that relies heavily on black soccer and basketball players to bring in the money.
With this in mind, dueling tranches of law and litigation landed in the highest regions of Washington - in Congress and the Supreme Court - and fueled a growing sense that the status quo is about to be turned on its head.
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"I don't know if it's now or five years later, but I'm pretty confident that something will fundamentally change," said Victoria Jackson, a professor of sports history for the State of Arizona.
This would mean changes in an industry that generates more than $ 14 billion annually, mostly from TV, ticket, and sponsorship deals from football and basketball - sports that are received in college by poor minority teenagers who receive them. exercised in disproportionate numbers are nothing in cash compensation for any income they produce. These proceeds are then used to keep smaller sports and sports departments afloat in accordance with Title IX and other regulations that require equal access for women on college campuses.
The most existential threat to the system in 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the virus in March, several conferences broke off their postseason basketball tournaments, and the NCAA canceled the billion-dollar gold mine known as March Madness, which in some form went to almost every Division I school in America.
The debate then shifted to how football works, and while hundreds of games have been played as planned, the 2020 season has landed somewhere between disjointed and disappointing - filled with empty stadiums, dozens of canceled competitions, and incomplete seasons that gave players that Spiel denied experience they signed up for while in almost constant danger.
"Organized chaos," said Mike Marlow, the sports director for Northern Arizona. “I think we saw that young people, trainers and administrators really understood what we were missing. What I have seen in the faces and coaches of young people, you can tell what you miss when you see how young people achieve their goals. "
While every effort was made to save the football season and get the 2020-21 basketball season underway, there was a steady stream of news in 2020 about the universities' plans to end their so-called Olympic programs - with smaller sports like Wrestling, gymnastics, and fencing that don't generate any income for the schools (but they form the backbone of the U.S. Olympic team.)
As of the end of 2020, 116 schools had at least 116 Department I programs earmarked for the chopping block, and that number is expected to increase. A debate was brewing about whether it was really financially necessary to end the programs, or whether schools were simply using the pandemic as a convenient excuse to take steps they had long wanted to take.
"I think the glory days of college athletics as we know it may be over," said longtime college insider Chuck Neinas in an interview with National Football about the possible end of the Olympic sporting model currently being used in colleges running foundation.
The debate was well underway at Stanford, where hundreds of alumni were hoping to reverse a government decision to remove eleven sports from one of the country's most robust college programs.
"By cutting back on the sport, you are not solving the underlying problem," said Olympic fencer and Stanford graduate Alex Massialas, who leads efforts to restore the sport at his alma mater. "Stanford's financial troubles and major deficit were something that happened long before the virus started."
The sports department's deficit is set to exceed $ 12 million in fiscal 2021, according to Stanford. After the pandemic hit, that figure was revised to at least $ 25 million.
Also on the verge of the turning point in 2020, lawmakers across the country called for changes to a system based on the work of unpaid athletes who receive scholarships, but not much more.
Competing bills introduced in the U.S. Senate would relax restrictions on the ability of soccer and basketball players to sign advertising contracts and redeem their names, images and similarities (NIL). Some states like California, Florida, and Colorado have already passed laws that trigger these changes. Federal legislation is an attempt to standardize player pay efforts across the country.
A bill proposed by Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, calls on colleges to share their winnings - a move that could result in six-figure salaries for soccer and men's basketball players.
Other plans, including the one formulated by the NCAA itself, would give players limited space to negotiate their own sponsorship deals. But this type of arrangement has the potential to help the rich get richer - star quarterbacks could make six-figure or more, for example - without offering much help to the average gamer.
For the first time in more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving the NCAA and its rules on compensating athletes for educational costs. A decision is expected in June.
"This case, and I don't think it's an exaggeration, could fundamentally change the structure of college sports and the relationship between college athletes and their schools and conferences," said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane.
With that in mind, 2020 is drawing to a close in a way that some critics believe will become all too familiar.
Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame entered the college football playoffs - a mix of teams that opened the possibility of an Alabama-Clemson playoff matchup for the fifth time in six years.
The TV deal for the playoffs is valued at around $ 470 million per year, most of which goes to schools through the conferences. Players don't get any of this directly, but the money keeps the system running - or at least the parts of the system that were not dismantled in the year of COVID.
"It gives us a chance to pause and ask if the big time has gotten too big," said Jackson, the Arizona State professor. "It gives us the opportunity to think about the philosophical approach to what sport really looks like in school."
Associate press reporters John Marshall, Jessica Gresko and Ralph Russo contributed to this report.
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