Rose Bowl Marks a Very Bad Season for the NCAA

The Fiscal Times

The 2014 college football bowl season begins in earnest today, when the Stanford Cardinal take on the Michigan State Spartans in the granddaddy of ‘em all, the Rose Bowl. But the New Year also marks the end of a year that the NCAA would like to forget.

2013 was a very bad one for the NCAA. It faced crises on three different fronts, each exposing long-running hypocrisy in the way that the NCAA does business. By the next year’s bowl season, these challenges could radically alter the way the NCAA operates.  And there’s even a remote possibility that the millions universities make off amateur sports could end up in the athletes’ pockets. 

Related: How Johnny Football’s Autograph Could Sink the NCAA

Here are the three crises that are forcing the NCAA to change how it operates:

1. The Johnny Football Mess. Johnny Manziel, better known to football fans as Johnny Football, was the toast of the 2012 college football season. He was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the best all around player in the country.

But it was his actions off the field that caused controversy as the 2013 season approached. Anonymous sources told ESPN that Manziel asked for money to sign 4,000 pieces of memorabilia, from posters to helmets.

The NCAA investigated and found no evidence of wrongdoing; they sat Manziel for the first half of his first game anyway. But the whole episode exposed another way that people make money off of college athletes through the sports memorabilia trade. 

Related: The Big Business of College Football: Who’s Winning?

Mike Gallucci, vice president of operations at sportsmemorabilia.com, said last summer that the sports memorabilia industry generates $4 billion annually. Profits made from the sale of this memorabilia go to private individuals who sell it online and companies like Steiner Sports, which sells memorabilia online and at conventions. Because NCAA rules prohibit athletes from profiting from their name, the people who actually sign the memorabilia get nothing.

2. The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. Ed O’Bannon was a standout on UCLA’s 1995 national champion basketball team. But his actions off the court are likely to have a bigger impact on college sports than anything he did on it. 

In 2009, O’Bannon filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA, suing for profits made from his image and likeness in advertisements. In other words, the NCAA uses pictures of O’Bannon and other athletes in advertisements that generated revenue. He is seeking a cut of those profits.

The case is expected to go to court in June. If the court rules in favor of O’Bannon, current and former athletes would have to be paid by the NCAA if their images are used in advertisements. But it’s already had a real world impact: EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Company agreed in September to a $40 million settlement for using images of former athletes on their annual college football video game. EA also agreed to stop producing the game.

“They need to go away in my opinion,” O’Bannon said of the NCAA in November. “The world has changed, the economy has changed. Everything has changed except the rules and regulations the NCAA governs.”

3. The end of the Bowl Championship Series. The Bowl Championship Series, better known as the BCS, was created in 1998 to crown a definitive national champion. It combined a mysterious mix of computer analytics with tradition polls to match up the two best teams in football to play for the national championship.

But as every college football fan knows, the system never really worked. The BCS rewarded large schools like Alabama and Notre Dame, giving these schools millions to play in BCS bowls ($18 million a piece for last year’s national championship game). It was rigged against smaller schools like Boise State and Texas Christian, two schools that famously went undefeated in 2009 but were kept out of the championship in favor of Alabama and Texas.

Thankfully, the curtain is lowering on the BCS this year – next year, the national championship will be decided by through a four team playoff, giving schools like Boise State a chance to compete for a title. But the BCS has created a tiered college athletics system, lining the pockets of big schools while putting small schools at a 15-year disadvantage.

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