ZEISE: Supreme Court ruling against NCAA could be bad for student-athletes in long run

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Brett Kavanaugh

The NCAA was hoping the Supreme Court would allow its rules with respect to amateurism — as in, nobody but coaches and administrators can get paid — and instead it got the opposite.

In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court held that NCAA schools could no longer collude to fix the price of labor for college athletes as long as the benefits in question are related to their education.

As Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote: "Traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA's decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student-athletes who are not fairly compensated."

One thing that needs to be clear — the ruling doesn't mean schools must pay players or buy them luxury cars. Any payments/compensation/products that are made must be related to the student-athletes' education. And there are now no limits on what those benefits can be.

This also does not mean that schools — or boosters — can start to pay players, either. And this is separate from the name, image and likeness (NIL) cases and challenges going on as we speak.

Slippery slope: These decisions, though, will pave the way for athletes to get paid. It is only a matter of time. It is good that these issues are being clarified, but I cannot reiterate this enough: This is an extremely slippery slope and I am not sure it ends where advocates of paying athletes think it should end.

The NCAA exists to provide student-athletes opportunities, and my guess is the NCAA as we know it is about to be changed forever — but I am not sure if it's for the better.

First off, can we stop with the whole "poor exploited athletes who don't get a thing from the NCAA" narrative? Because it is 100 percent false. Division I athletes are not exploited and the idea they aren't compensated for what they do is silly.

I have two children who were Division I athletes. One has two degrees, and through the connections he made while playing college football, he landed an excellent job. The other is about a month from finishing her master's degree and is likely going to be able to parlay a connection she made while playing into an excellent job.

Neither of them paid a dime for their education, housing or food for four years, and both got a monthly stipend/cost of attendance check. They had access to tutors, academic advisors, life skills coaches, nutritionists, doctors, etc. They got to travel to places they would never have gotten a chance to see.

If that is being exploited, I want to be exploited some day, too. I estimate that the total package — everything included — for their two educations was worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $600,000. That's not "free."

We can argue about how much compensation is proper or fair compensation. That's a discussion that's worth having, but the idea they are playing for free is just ignorant of the facts.

Smaller schools may be hurt: This is why I hope today's ruling doesn't open the floodgates and turn college athletics into a world where the highest bidders and most affluent schools can run over everyone else.

I'm not talking about the competitive balance of things; I am talking about the cost of it all getting too high for smaller schools — schools that don't have huge conference TV contract checks coming in and or schools that don't have huge fan bases.

The University of Hartford recently announced it would transition from Division I to Division III athletics. And while it claims this move "better aligns with the university's mission and goals of creating exceptional academic, co-curricular, and wellness experiences," the bottom line is actually the bottom line.

The study shows the move will save the school in the neighborhood of $9 million-$10 million a year. There are no scholarships to give out in Division III, which means there are now a lot of student-athletes who have one less opportunity at a free education.

Many student-athletes may lose scholarship opportunities: And therein lies the problem with all of these discussions. They are focused on the top 5%, the Power Five schools, the schools that are flush with cash. And for that matter, they focus on the top football and basketball players who are "risking millions in their pro career" by playing "for free."

The thing is, the overwhelming majority of the 350 or so Division I schools aren't Duke, Alabama or Notre Dame, and the overwhelming majority of athletes aren't Trevor Lawrence or Zion Williamson. Most schools have small budgets and are trying to squeeze every dime they can out of the resources they have.

The idea of paying athletes is a noble one. I think it is a little naive and misguided to think there won't be devastating consequences to many athletics departments, and that will result in fewer opportunities for student-athletes.

I am all for athletes getting their fair share. I think the name, image and likeness fight should be over and student-athletes should have won in a landslide. I am for student-athletes being compensated for their troubles.

The Division I athletes are compensated handsomely already, though, and I just don't know how much is necessary and how much more is realistic. That is the question that will need to be answered and sooner rather than later, unless we want the University of Hartford story to become the norm and opportunities for student-athletes to earn scholarships continue to dwindle.