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The Real Impact Of The Ed O’Bannon Ruling

Yeah, the players won in the Ed O’Bannon case vs. the NCAA, but college athletes aren’t going to realize just how poor they are in the real world until they get a little bit of money.

The players need a real union, they’re not going to get one, and they’re going to keep getting hosed because of it.

Every time college athletics takes a positive movement to finally give the players what they deserve – a piece of the multi-billion dollar pie that they’re helping to bake – the adults keep screwing things up, and they keep making this way, way too hard.

No, the ruling in the Ed O’Bannon case isn’t some massive step forward for the players, and it’s not really going to change college sports as we know it, and why?

$5,000.

In the same week that conference commissioners looked everyone in the eye, and with a straight face, said that the entire autonomy movement is about the student-athlete, the federal judge who ruled in favor of O’Bannon in his case against the NCAA said there can be a $5,000 cap on the amount the colleges have to pay players.

So if, say, some future Jameis Winston – this ruling doesn’t kick in until 2016 – is on the cover of some seizure-inducing video game that makes a bazillion dollars, it’s possible he’ll make as little as 5K. Of course, the NCAA and colleges could choose to give him more, but good luck with that.

The other big, giant loss for the players, which isn’t getting much play in all the trumped up excitement over the ruling, is the squashing of the idea that players could and should be allowed to make money by doing endorsement deals, signing with a marketing company, or getting a tractor from Jim Bob Booster.

Judge Claudia Wolken’s ruling basically states that yeah, college athletes should probably get something, and colleges should have to give up some of the money they make off of their players, but not enough to make it a real problem.

Or fair.

Players can get a $300 gift card, a slew of iCrap, jackets, gifts, and anything else that sponsors want to provide in a bowl game gift basket, but they’re not allowed to shill for Gatorade? That’s not quite what the O’Bannon ruling means, but Wolken managed to legitimize the hypocrisy by not going far enough. She left just enough wiggle room for the NCAA to be able to appeal and have a reasonable case, and she didn’t lock down the concept that college players should be allowed to make money off of what they do – either it’s okay to get paid, or it’s not, but a $5,000 cap, or a cap of any sort, shouldn’t be a part of it. With a union, the players would be able to negotiate what they’d be able to get, but no union, no problem for the NCAA.

Shockingly, the NCAA’s case was that they don’t want this because it doesn’t really want to give away any money because it would hurt the greater good, and it sort of worked.

The NCAA all but ceded the idea of paying players when it gave the Power 5 conferences autonomy this week. Dress it up all you want, but cost-of-attendance is just a fancy, schmancy way of giving players money without actually calling the players employees.

With autonomy, if the big schools want to figure out some way that suddenly makes it $77,000 a year to live and go to school in Manhattan, Kansas, or $123,000 a year to rent an apartment in Gainesville, Florida, in theory, they can. It won’t happen like that, but it could, and that’s where the real money would be for the players if they could coordinate their efforts. The O’Bannon ruling helps move that along, but it puts the power of payment in the hands of the NCAA and the schools.

The players will benefit more than they did before – they’ll get more in the way of insurance, say about how things will be run, and some of the other things the union movement was looking for – but that’s due to autonomy and not the O’Bannon ruling. With this win for O’Bannon, will the Heisman star who takes his team to the national title get the millions he probably deserves? Not a chance, and that’s what it was really supposed to do.

And that’s the players’ problem – no one’s really looking out for their best interests. They’re at the mercy of whatever the NCAA, the schools, and a federal judge, want to provide.

So congratulations, players, you’re no longer amateurs.

You haven’t been for a long, long time. You just didn’t know it.

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