Challenging the myth of college sports

Odds are unless you’re a devout follower of college basketball, you probably barely remember Ed O’Bannon. That, however, could change if the former member of the 1995 UCLA national champion team succeeds in a lawsuit that would dramatically alter the way college sports are operated.

O’Bannon is the lead plaintiff in a suit against the NCAA seeking compensation for using O’Bannon’s likeness in a videogame. The game is licensed by the NCAA but none of the profits are shared with the student-athletes who actually play the games. A hearing later today in federal court in Oakland, California, will determine if the suit can be certified as a class action and if it is, it opens the door for thousands of student-athletes past and present to share in some of the riches that the NCAA and its member schools have been hoarding for decades.

If you play videogames, especially NCAA basketball, you likely had a 6’8’’ power forward from UCLA wearing number 31 on your team, or played against him. He has no name but his stats and game are eerily similar to that of O’Bannon, a college Hall of Fame member whose number was retired by UCLA, but whose NBA career amounted a little more than a cup of coffee. If O’Bannon’s name and likeness had been used in an NBA-licensed game, he would have shared in those profits, but because he was an “amateur” in his college days, he got little more than a monthly stipend to go with his scholarship while the NCAA and UCLA reaped billions from television contracts and, later, video games.

The NCAA has been adamantly opposed to paying student-athletes, claiming they get a free education and adding payment to that would open up a Pandora’s box of problems, including the smear on the image that college athletics are just part of the learning experience. And they say this with a straight face.

“As long as I’m president of the NCAA, we will not pay student-athletes to play sports,” says NCAA President Mark Emmert, who earns an estimated $1.6 million as head of the organization.

What everyone is eyeing are the mind-boggling contracts the NCAA has that are on par with anything professional sports leagues earn. The NCAA is in the midst of a $6.4 billion football television contract as well as a $10.8 billion deal to televise college basketball. None of that includes lesser contracts to televise championships in other sports such as women’s basketball, ice hockey, or lacrosse or the myriad of contracts that individual athletic conferences have with other networks. Add it up and the NCAA should be shaking in its boots at the prospect of O’Bannon’s suit.

And make no mistake it is about the money on both sides. UMass didn’t decide to move up its football program to the Bowl Championship Series, formerly known as Division 1, to augment the student-athlete experience. Nor did Boston College abandon its long ties with the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference in order to broaden the academic curriculum. The moves are made because there’s money to be made.

The argument is that student-athletes get valuable scholarships and a chance to earn a degree. But so do those who get scholarships to major in chemistry, biology, economics, or journalism and then have the opportunity to earn more money either through work-study or in co-op positions. The NCAA severely restricts what a player can earn as well as what gifts they can accept. No such restrictions are placed on any other student in a university.

                                                                                                                                                                                 –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

A Middlesex judge decries overcrowding at the Middlesex Jail in Cambridge — a facility that was supposed to close by the end of this year.

A Herald editorial praises the Legislature for pouring capital gains surpluses into the state’s rainy day account. MassINC had previously advocated for dedicating volatile capital gains taxes to budget reserves.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua moves to fire a policeman who is facing child rape charges in Florida and New Hampshire, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Freetown selectmen have begun to purge a number of town committees and commissions that exist on paper but have not been active in years.

The fired head of the Saugus Cable Television Station finally defends himself against charges that he ran the station poorly and wasted funds, the Item reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s switch from Independent to Democrat prompts Governing to examine the political benefits of changing parties.

Meet the other Kerry brother in the cabinet, acting Commerce Secretary Cameron Kerry.

Karl Rove expresses glee over the fact that young voters are abandoning President Obama for acting like Rove’s old boss.

ELECTIONS

With less than a week to go, the US Senate races lurches toward a conclusion. Democrat Ed Markey releases his tax returns without his home address redacted. His home address is listed in Malden, not Maryland, WBUR reports. NECN goes one on one with Republican US Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez at his home. Gomez’s wife accuses Markey of misrepresenting Gomez’s stance on abortion.

Former Sen. Scott Brown says he could beat Markey, but adds that he hasn’t seen “much energy out and about” for the race, the State House News reports (via Lowell Sun).

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Plans for another luxe residential tower in Boston are unveiled.

EDUCATION

UMass trustees voted to freeze tuition and fees across all five campuses for the first time in a decade — but only if lawmakers approve a $39 million budget increase.

Some states, including Massachusetts, could delay for a year using student growth on standardized tests in evaluating teacher performance, Education Week reports.

The Boston School Committee approves a policy that will make condoms available in the city’s high schools.

HEALTH CARE

The state Health Policy Commission will review the economic impact of the proposed takeover of South Shore Hospital by Partners Healthcare, a process that will stall the merger while the study does on.

Prevalence of the sexually transmitted HPV virus is cut in half in teenage girls even though adoption of a vaccine for the virus has been slow, the New York Times reports.

TRANSPORTATION

A report by the group Transportation for America, using federal data, has determined that 10 percent of the state’s bridges fall into the “structurally deficient” category that require major repairs.

The Pioneer Institute releases wage and repair-cost figures for the T and calls on the transit agency to pare back excessive salaries, CommonWealth reports.

Construction of Salem’s new $37 million commuter rail station is scheduled to start next month, the Salem News reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Shark scientists will be able to tag great whites this summer on the Cape thanks to a donation from Caterpillar.

The Neponset River Trail will be completed with $15 million in state funds.

The White House prepares tough new emissions caps on power plants.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

While people are riveted to testimony about Whitey Bulger’s thuggish ways, gang killings in poor Boston neighborhoods are eliciting “mostly shrugs,” laments Joan Vennochi, including from Gov. Deval Patrick. Peter Gelzinis rips John Martorano for profiting from his murder spree. Howie Carr says incriminating evidence is piling up all around Bulger, even if it is being delivered by dirty witnesses.

A murder investigation continues to swirl around Patriots player Aaron Hernandez.

MEDIA

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

The Globe hedges its bets and offers an iPhone app to read BostonGlobe.com for just $3.99 a month, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

California is preparing to allow local governments to opt out of the state’s public records law, Governing reports.