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Game of Torts: How the Supreme Court’s Historic 9-0 Ruling Against the NCAA will Impact the NFL

Our own ECD has some strong thoughts in his opinion on the massive decision made by the SCOTUS against the NCAA.

Track & Field: NCAA Championships Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It happened. An event many college athletics purists had previously thought was impossible suddenly occurred with one sweeping motion by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). A nearly century-long debate has ended with resounding results for an entire nation that loves collegiate athletics more than anyone else in the world.

In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the SCOTUS ruled in favor of the athletes, and against the NCAA regarding how antitrust laws behave with “amateurism in sports” and if they apply to a governing entity that has declared itself “non-profit.”

Previously the NCAA had countless restrictions against student athletes looking to earn income for their likeness or to pursue benefits which lie outside of educationally-tied scholarships. Effective June 21st, 2021, that behavior was declared a violation of basic human privileges; and therefore, subsequent to federal antitrust laws.

No more can student athletes be punished for simply asking to receive a slice of the giant financial pie earned yearly by the NCAA. We’ll no longer see such great players like Reggie Bush get publicly humiliated for accepting payments not tied to his scholarship. The playing field has been leveled between universities and players.

What happened to him, and so many others, is an embarrassment to ethics. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s statement echoed like a sonic boom from a high performance fighter jet.

“The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”

For those needing a refresher, here is how life used to be for collegiate athletes up until recent years. As a collegiate athlete, you could not accept payment for anything not related to your scholarship. Not a penny.

Autographs, apparel, and other marketing opportunities were strictly taboo unless they were done without any financial considerations. Universities could not offer any additional flows of monies, financial benefits, or anything else not directly tied to education - i.e. tuition, meal plans, room & board, books, etc. Any violation of these rules carries steep consequences.

(Although that hasn’t stopped universities from trying over the years.)

Before we go out and say, “well they should just get a job,” the culture in the NCAA frowned upon student athletes doing anything else besides playing their respective sport. Their lives were xyz sport and studies 24/7/365, with little-to-no time to realistically work for a reasonable wage at a part-time job. Remember, scholarships are just that - scholarships.

They don’t pay for everyday life no matter how much money appears on paper. Coaches stand to get paid tens of millions of dollars for the efforts of their players. And the NCAA would generate literal billions of dollars from March Madness, College Bowl Games, Baseball Tournaments, Softball, the list goes on and on.

Also, despite being considered as “amateur athletes,” players were essentially required by scholarship — really a glorified contract in this particular case — to serve out their collegiate career at the awarding institution.

Worst part was if players suffered an injury, or if other harsh life events were to occur, there were no legal protections in place to prevent universities from pulling their offers. The counterpoint to that was the official “red shirt” system, which would be granted by the NCAA on a case-by-case basis. Plenty of other “shirts” exist with each university as well.

Anyone who considered transferring, whether it were to be within conference or within the same division, would be required to forfeit eligibility for an x-amount of semesters. That depended on exactly where the athlete was planning to go, rules between conferences and divisions DI through DIII each have their own stipulations. The players were, nonetheless, expected to stay right where they’re at. As if they did sign a professional contract.

Meanwhile, coaches could jump from school to school without any consequences, so long as the acquiring university agreed to buy out their contract. Oh, but what if the coach who recruited xyz player(s) switched ballcaps, and the players wanted to remain with said coach? “Tough luck,” said the NCAA.

Then, the transfer portal was introduced in 2019 after decades of intense pressure to allow these players more control and freedom over their personal situations. Particularly in scenarios mentioned in the previous paragraph. Recently most conferences have cancelled requirements to sit out any semester following transfer. That all proved to be far too late for the NCAA to perform an about face and save grace or dignity.

The SCOTUS simply called the NCAA out on their fibs and make-believe arguments which never provided answers as to why student athletes could — let alone should — be treated so differently.

Where the actual court case is rather simple and does not specifically address players earning salaries, that figurative door has been kicked down with a thunderous crash. Now, it’s only a matter of time before we see scholarships or financial assistance include actual salaries or other cash considerations. A road has been paved for endless changes to be made by the NCAA due to legal requirements alone.

And That is Just the Beginning

The impact felt from this court decision will not stay within the NCAA. Even the most modest of fans will recognize the significance entailed. Every professional team sports league stands to feel a gigantic impact.

Especially the NFL.

Unlike the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, or really any major professional team sports league in the world; the NFL does not have a designated developmental league. Nope, instead, their substitute has almost always been the NCAA. A single source opportunity for the NFL with all the finest football prospects imaginable.

Each athlete must spend a minimum of three years out from high school and use up all their college eligibility before being ruled draft eligible. Naturally a highly talented athlete could opt to declare early for the NFL draft upon approval from the league, and there is the supplementary draft as well. The options for players to reach the NFL lie on a singular, one-way track.

As of this moment, the NCAA serves as the NFL’s developmental league. Free of cost, too. The NFL has no financial stake in the “non-profit” NCAA for obvious reasons.

Consider that ideology endangered.

Plenty of athletes look to get into the NFL ASAP, as once their talent is recognized, they see the instant potential for a big payday. A payday they were previously banned from envisioning while playing college football. Not just in terms of monetary salaries, but endorsements, merchandising, etc. All of that is now a possibility for current and future collegiate stars.

There is no longer a rush to earning or pursuing financial benefits. They can bide their time, maximize their earnings, and truly think on what’s best for them. It will impact the draft declaration process immensely.

The NFL Needs to Think Big on the Future

You know what has always made sense? A developmental league for the NFL to utilize in assessing and training their next generation of players. Or, a partnership with another football league, i.e. the returning XFL and The Spring League. Yet, for any number of reasons, the NFL has refused to make another attempt following the cancellation of NFL Europe.

Considering that student athletes can be legally paid for their services, and will seek such compensation moving forward, the reasons for not having such a league are non-existent. Aside from the league not wanting to spend additional money on building leagues, in comparison to how every other professional team sports league does business in the United States and Canada.

Now, the NFL needs to prepare for a much smaller pool of draft declarations per year. Especially from the big-time programs from conferences such as the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, et all. Players within those top tier D-I programs can realistically start to expect monies comparable to the NFL in endorsements and merchandising opportunities. Some schools in those conferences alone make more money per year than a few NFL franchises anyway.

The dream to play in the NFL will always be a major force considered by star recruits nation-wide. The opportunity for earning revenue for their performance, on the other hand, just became that much shorter of a wait.

Why rush and declare for the NFL draft if you can now earn money while playing for a collegiate football team and earn your degree at the same time? They’ll finally have access to earning revenue while pursuing their studies and education. Football (and xyz sports) will, truly, be their job during college. Finally, compensation for the athletes directly responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars earned by the NCAA.

With fewer prospects available, more time, considerations, and patience will be needed in assessing who’s ready for the NFL. Use this hypothetical developmental league to evaluate current free agents, both veteran and undrafted, as well as designating injured players to assignments much like everyone else in the professional sports world.

Literally, an opportunity for having football played eight to twelve months a year is right in front of the 32 owners. All money spent on formation will be recouped in three years, max. Money well spent, I would say.

It’s truly time for the NFL to get out of their obsolete mindset and open doors for expansions outside of the main 32 franchises. This does not include their ludicrous efforts to open an active franchise (or two) in London, England. Rather, look at what’s happening with the NCAA, and prepare for the very near future.

Because, whether they like it or not, changes are coming. And they are coming en masse.