Monday, July 26, 2010

Chronicle of Higher Education Article on Sonny Vaccaro and O'Bannon v. NCAA

Libby Sander has an extensive and thoughtful article on Sonny Vaccaro and O'Bannon v. NCAA in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education. The article is titled The Gospel According to Sonny: Sonny Vaccaro helped commercialize college sports. Now he wants athletes to get their due. She interviewed many persons for this story, including me and Duke Law Professor Paul Haagen. Here are some excerpts:

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Three years have passed since Mr. Vaccaro ended his decades-long career as a marketing executive with Nike, Adidas, and Reebok, for which he oversaw large-scale events for elite teenage players ... Now, in a new period of his long involvement with the game, Mr. Vaccaro, who is 70, has embarked on a personal quest of sorts. If he succeeds, he could fundamentally change college sports. He could also change his legacy.

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One of [Vaccaro's] most consistent complaints is that the NCAA's rules governing athletes, especially that limit scholarships to one year and require athletes to sit out a year after transferring, treat players like commodities to be traded at convenience. He recently produced a list of more than 300 Division 1 basketball players who, by late June, had already transferred to other institutions--presumably in part because of recruiting promises left unfilled--where they will lose a year of eligibility.

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. . . Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, a group of 14,000 current and former Division I athletes that advocates for many of the same issues as Mr. Vaccaro, says the aggresive rhetoric (of Vaccaro) strikes exactly the right tone. The NCAA "doesn't respond to people asking nicely," he says. "It responses to force: lawsuits, new laws, public criticism through the media. I think he's doing exactly what he needs to do if he's going to inspire change.

"Look at who he's talking to. He's talking to the future lawyers. He knows where the power lies."

[Note from McCann: Vaccaro has spoken at a number of law schools and other academic institutions in the last couple of years, including Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and Boston College Law School -- check out our coverage on Sports Law Blog]

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. . . Mr. O'Bannon's case in particular has brought more attention to a waiver that athletes sign when accepting a scholarship, which authorizes the NCAA to use their names and pictures to promote NCAA events, giving up all future rights in the association's licensing of those "images and likenesses."

Michael McCann, a professor at Vermont Law School who focuses on sports law and has written about the O'Bannon case, says Mr. Vaccaro's willingness to push the issue of whether athletes should receive compensation, even retroactively, forces people inside and outside intercollegiate athletics to confront a concept many feel is threatening.

"People love college sports. To suddenly change it to where college players are paid would change the way we look at college sports," Mr. McCann says.

To Mr. Vaccaro, however, the quandary is almost purely one of labor and compensation—with the wrong people benefiting from a distorted market.

"He really is trying to get at the questions of what's the appropriate interaction of education, athletic competition, and kids—particularly kids who come from fairly tough backgrounds," says Mr. Haagen, the law professor at Duke. "I think Sonny had this kind of intuitive sense that a lot of the amateurism talk was not correct. ... What he really understands is the beginnings of an effort to try to get dollars to people who are producing value."

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To read the rest (subscription only), click here. It's a must read if you have a subscription.