Did you hear that rumble?
It was the landscape of varsity athletics that changed before our eyes.
It was a tectonic shift of a magnitude that has not been felt in these areas since the New Madrid earthquake on February 7, 1812 that left the Mississippi River flowing north instead of its usual south.
Maybe, I’m exaggerating a bit, but again, maybe not.
The Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 9-0 ruling that the way the NCAA has done business our entire lives is unconstitutional in a landmark antitrust case.
The ruling ended the NCAA’s right to limit benefits paid to athletes that are related to education and seriously questioned the governing body’s ability to limit the benefits provided to athletes by its members.
So essentially varsity athletics is faced with a whole new ball game in what it can and cannot provide for its student-athletes. Prior to the ruling, athletic programs were allowed to provide the basic cost of participation – including board and lodging and some incidental costs – for scholarship-awarded university athletes.
Male or female Division I basketball or Bowl Division football student-athletes will now be able to receive benefits from their schools, including cash or cash-equivalent rewards depending on college or graduation .
Other perks that schools can also offer are scholarships to earn undergraduate or graduate degrees at any school and paid internships once athletes have completed their college athletic eligibility.
Universities or athletic programs are not required to provide these benefits to athletes. Conferences may impose limits or prohibitions on benefits if their members choose to do so; however, conferences cannot act in unison on this.
Thus, the Power Five conferences are not allowed to work together to create a level playing field of benefits to be offered to their athletes. Each conference must come up with its own rules.
The simplest example of how this could work is to go back to last year and how different conferences decided to play football during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SEC moved to a 10-game all-conference schedule that began in mid-September. ACC had a similar format but started their season earlier. The Big 12 played a 10-game conference schedule with an out-of-conference opponent.
The Big Ten and Pac 12 initially decided not to play in the fall before going back on their decisions after seeing that the other big conferences were able to play it safe.
Each conference offered its own COVID-19 testing procedures and policies. Attendance at ball games was governed by state mandates. Things went pretty well.
Perhaps the same will happen with the new Supreme Court ruling?
Conferences won’t be able to work together to establish a baseline of how athletes are paid, but there is no doubt that conferences will pay attention to what other leagues are doing in an attempt to stay competitive.
It’s absolutely too early to know how this is all going to play out, but it could very well be a fatal blow to the NCAA as we know it as the true governing body for all varsity athletics.
The whole idea of the NCAA was to create a uniform national platform for universities to compete in athletics. While Monday’s ruling deals only with compensation for student-athletes, it sets a precedent against almost anything the NCAA does.
Is it good or bad?
For the SEC and other large conferences, this could be a good thing, although it certainly makes the requirements much higher for conference offices.
As for remunerating athletes beyond the cost of participation, again, anyone can guess how things will turn out. It will be up to the conferences to govern these decisions rather than the NCAA.
Some universities might choose to follow Notre Dame and become independent so that they can run their program exactly as they want. There has long been the threat of Texas becoming independent, but then again, the numbers are strong.
Could this encourage a new consolidation of the university game?
There was a suggestion floating around on various social media platforms that the so-called “Top 32 Programs” could pull out of their various conferences to create a super conference that would be split into divisions and play according to its own set of rules.
Such a decision seems all the more likely based on the Supreme Court ruling, but I expect individual programs and lectures to be very cautious as they go along. Too much change, too quickly, could kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.
It will be really interesting to see how the athletes are paid. The money is there, at least with the Power Five and Notre Dame conferences. Instead of investing in newer, better facilities and wacky head coach contracts, more of the money is now going to go to the athletes.
While in many ways this is a good thing, it does create uncomfortable questions about the values of stars, rookies, backups, and squad men.
Is a backup quarterback paid the same or more than a starting offensive lineman? Is an All-SEC nose guard paid for as well as an All-SEC shooter?
Are there any bonuses for doing All-Conference or All-American?
What happens if a player starts the season as a starter, but is then demoted? Would that change his salary scale? What about a wide receiver that is moved safely? Is the salary comparable?
How are injured players compensated and supported?
Football, basketball and, in some schools, baseball take the grade for all other sports. Is it fair to football players that the money they generate supports athletes in less popular or less monetized varsity sports under the new ruling?
That and dozens of other tough questions are the ones that sports administrators are now tasked with solving, as if their job wasn’t tough enough.
How will all of this affect the University of Arkansas in the ever-competitive SEC?
I guess all we can do is sit back and watch, but varsity athletics is going to see some huge changes with this ruling and the name and likeness compensation issue that is before the courts.