One of the most fundamental arguments the NCAA is trying to make in the Ed O’Bannon trial is also one of the most comical. It goes something like this:
If major college football and basketball players were paid something more than a scholarship, a lot of you would care a lot less about major college football and basketball.
NCAA President Mark Emmert was the latest would-be stand-up comic to sit down in the witness chair in U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken’s courtroom in Oakland and make that case.
Emmert was unintentionally funny in a number of ways Thursday. He referenced that catastrophic event from 2007 when “Lafayette-Monroe” beat Nick Saban and Alabama. Actually, it was just Monroe. Lafayette was nowhere near Bryant-Denny that day.
Emmert also was guilty of a full-on Freudian pratfall when he said one of the NCAA’s core values is that a player should be “a full-time athlete.” He corrected himself to say “full-time student,” but he was closer to reality with the first answer.
Put aside for a moment that the NCAA’s real concern in making its amateurish amateurism argument appears to be market share, which is a curious stance for an organization that wants you to believe its primary concern is education, not commercialization. Who cares how many people are watching these young men play as long as they’re going to class?
Now think about what Emmert and the NCAA are really saying. The more you pay college players, the less college fans will watch.
Did people stop watching Cam Newton in 2010 after his father admitted discussing a pay-for-play deal with Mississippi State during his 2009 recruitment out of junior college? Some college football fans were convinced then and remain convinced now that Auburn must’ve bought Newton – despite the NCAA’s failure to charge Auburn after a 13-month investigation – but I suspect none of those true believers boycotted the 2010 Iron Bowl.
Some of them only wish they had.
Did people stop watching Johnny Manziel last year after his signature showed up in the summer of 2013 everywhere but on an endorsement contract with Sharpie? On the contrary, Alabama’s 49-42 win over Manziel and Texas A&M was one of the biggest games of the year.
How many of you suspect that college football players – not at your favorite school, of course, but at your rival – are getting free cars, free suits and $100 handshakes for big plays? Show of hands?
OK, that’s pretty much all of you, and yet college football in the state of Alabama and beyond is more popular than ever before. It’s also more commercial than ever, and that’s just over the table.
AL.com is running a poll to see if there’s any chance the NCAA might be right. We’re asking, “If college football players were compensated, would you lose interest in the sport?”
As of 6 p.m. Thursday, 42.12 percent of the respondents said, if that happened, they “would stop watching the sport.”
In a possibly related development, there was a serious outbreak shortly after the poll was launched. Seems the pants of numerous AL.com readers kept bursting into flame.
This column includes information contained in tweets from the following reporters on the scene: SI.com’s Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples), USA Today’s George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) and ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach).