Pre” lived in a travel trailer and on food stamps while electrifying the world of track and cross country in the early 1970s. He was charismatic, vocal, dynamic – and set records at home and abroad in virtually every distance. He was also a shooting star, dying way too young in a car accident in 1975. The accomplishments of Steve Prefontaine are well known in running circles and his exploits have been documented in films and books.
His legacy away from sports has stood the test of time longer than his records, though. Many who approach the bright lights and big city of Eugene, Oregon today have no idea the effect Pre had on the University of Oregon and collegiate and amateur athletics. He wore one of the first Nike shoes ever and was their first sponsored collegiate athlete. The co-founder of Nike (originally Blue Ribbon Sports), Phil Knight, and the head coach of Oregon at the time Bill Bowerman, another co-founder of Nike, somehow came up with an annual stipend of $5,000 for Pre while the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars leveraging his popularity. All those multi-million-dollar facilities built today – and monies raked in from every sport at Oregon – trace back to Pre and Nike and Phil Knight, including the football facilities and their flirtatious runs at football national titles.
Time to back up a bit. The AAU ruled amateur athletes during this period with an iron fist. They controlled almost every aspect of amateur athletes’ lives, including whether they could work jobs or even qualify for the Olympics, and pocketed millions along the way.
(Click to view)
(Via: Associated Press)
“Amateurism should have been kicked out in 1920,” Prefontaine (above) said at the time, “The average athlete now is finding it damn hard to make it”.
And he was anything but average. Other athletes took up the cause and forced the U.S. Congress to relinquish the stranglehold of the AAU via the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. Some consider it his most significant legacy.
The saying goes you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. The AAU had a second cousin, thrice removed, ready to carry the mantle. Today we call it the NCAA. This bureaucracy has been around since 1906 but it really got into the swing of things in the late 20th century in terms of controlling the purse strings of college sports – and depriving athletes of earning income off their brand and their name. Today, the NCAA is in complete control.
NIL? It’s cute. “Name, Image, and Likeness.” This time, it took a ruling (.pdf) by the U.S. Supreme Court to force the NCAA to allow amateur athletes to use their name, image, and likeness to improve the financial situation for themselves and their families while playing amateur sports for collegiate institutions. The NCAA has been fighting this tooth and nail for decades – and fought it every step of the way through our court system. And it will continue to do so; one can imagine the armies of overseers, hall monitors, on-campus spies, and resources the regime known as the NCAA will deploy to control these dollars at every turn. They have spent vast legal fees on their self-righteous indignation. Only in America do we find a way to spend our own money to sue ourselves.
The thing is they cornered the market on those dollars long ago – and ain’t lettin’ loose. Is there anyone who really thinks those who profited off bowl games have lost a dime because of the playoff system? The only cost they incurred was paying for cardboard cutouts last year. There are so many bowls now there ought to be a trivia game on who the sponsor is going to be and betting pools on just how many games a team can lose and still get an invitation.
The big money of NIL is already controlled by lawyers, sports agents, athletic departments, the NCAA, the universities, the financiers, and the power brokers who have been inside the secret enclave for decades, mapping out and strategizing how to maintain control and increase profitability, knowing this day was inevitable. Major corporations are already aligning with the athletes who stand to make any money under this new Ponzi scheme. And yes, it’s about football and the best football players. It always is. The only profitable college sport is football with very few exceptions, and those dollars will not be denied those in power. It’s also one of the largest slush funds contributing to the frenzied and unchecked growth of universities. But we’ll save that for another day.
DON’T MISS A STORY …
If you think the American tax code is complicated; fasten your seat belts. The high court, in its infinite wisdom, has left it up to the individual states – and individual universities, for that matter – to determine how each athlete can earn income from their name, image and likeness. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big believer in states’ rights, and it’s the correct call for the judicial branch of our federal government to make. At the same time, the sheer volumes of tax laws, institutional rules, state laws, NCAA oversight, athletic department policies, financial aid guidelines, etc., haven’t been read by anyone you know. We’ll just keep using the ubiquitous phrase, “Well,.. ‘they’ said….” as we espouse our position on any given topic because our favorite talking heads said so. Get this; the status of a Pell Grant and other financial aid can (and will) be affected by revenue earned by an athlete through NIL.
So-called stipends (nominal sums) doled out to college athletes will also reduce financial aid to the student. Twenty-eight states, including South Carolina, have already passed NIL laws that have taken effect – or will take effect in the near future. The rest are sure to follow. Universities are making their own rules – and those rules are all over the map. At Georgia you can’t use the “G”; at Tennessee you can use the “T.”
“Sell T-Shirts; Lose Grants”, will make a fine recruiting motto to use against college rivals. Imagine being a talented wide-eyed recruit and his or her family trying to navigate this mine field.
Almost 90 percent of college athletes live below the poverty line. Only one percent of college athletes receive full scholarships. They often come from low-income families and by now we all know the possibility they will ever turn pro is practically non-existent – assuming there is even a sport that has a professional league in their particular endeavor. Scholarships are few and far between, and often cobbled together by academic departments at the behest of one of the athletic programs. Be clear about this; the NIL will require a team of lawyers, financial consultants, and other professional counselors, alongside mountains of paperwork (websites and apps) for the average family to interpret the rules and regulations, and every one of them is going to get a piece of the pie. The NIL is nothing but crumbs for almost all collegiate athletes. It’s a start, but that’s all it is. Cross one line and the NCAA can rule a player ineligible at the drop of a hat with little to no recourse; we’ve seen this happen time and again before the new rules even take hold.
Let’s not forget about the elephant in the room (you’re welcome for the pun). Chief executive officer Nick Saban took less than an hour in his speech on SEC press day to embed a message that is quite clear: If you are an athlete going to the University of Alabama to play football, and you are off campus at an NIL event peddling Dreamland BBQ (it’s pretty good) or running a social media spot from the Sloss Furnace Fest then it’s his position you are not 100 percent committed to his program, and the same opportunities won’t exist for you on the field.
(Click to view)
(Via: YouTube/ Fanatics View)
Listen to him; his message is unmistakable, even for the heralded heir apparent shot-caller who has thrown only a single touchdown in a real game. Saban said of the supposed seven figures in endorsements lined up for his newly minted QB “…that’s because of our brand.”
Roll Tide, indeed.
At least he had the sense to say at the end of his soliloquy he had no clue how all these changes are really going to shake out for everyone else. He didn’t leave any room for confusion if you play football for Alabama, though. Million dollar players sit the bench all the time in the NFL; it will be a big news day the first time one does in college.
The time is now for the University of South Carolina and other colleges to figure this out. Embrace the athletes who are trying to better their circumstances and who commit to your school. Help them navigate the waters of all the NIL vultures that will come swooping in looking for a pound of flesh. Start aligning with local and regional supporters, boosters, and companies now to help these players and their families earn revenue from their brand. Get over your “…they are getting a free education; what more do they want…?” attitude and quit your bellyaching that this will change college sports forever.
It’s time for change. Stop investing in buildings and start investing in athletes. For anyone who knows how to actually research history past one web link, you’ll find the Ivy League won almost all the national championships for over fifty years when college football began, and then mainly Army, Navy and Notre Dame went at it up until WWII. The Big Ten had their day in the sun for quite a while. One can even remember when Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Southern Cal (the most prominent of directional schools) had 100 players on the sidelines and won a championship or two. And yes, Reggie Bush is darn right he should get the Heisman Trophy back he won in 2005. He earned it – not the university or the NCAA.
Shouldn’t have given it up if you ask me. He was accused of rules violations and did not break any laws.
Not sure Bush would received a warm welcome on campus after that in spite of the greatness he brought to the team and on the field. In fact he was banned for 10 years for any affiliation with Southern Cal, nor could they use his likeness for marketing purposes. The gendarmes of the NCAA have recently ruled on July 28th, 2021 he will see no reparations in the return of his trophy.
One may or may not speculate that Reggie Bush may have been under financial pressures, but one does not have to speculate the current percentage of athletes who are. Use these new guidelines and rules to your advantage to get the best athletes who will appreciate the collegiate athletic environment that will not only recognize the circumstances of their families but put together the infrastructure to help them along the way instead of treating them as chattel and a number on a jersey to be tossed aside after a year or two or an injury or two. The result may very well be that you don’t get the best of the best of individual athletes, but you can put the best teams on the field. Teams win championships, not players.
I’ll assure you of this. Keep chasing the tails of the magnificent beasts that are churning out football championships, and the view will always be the same. You can even bet on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
(Via: Joe Spencer)
Before climbing Stone Mountain, North Carolina, Joe walked cotton fields in the Mississippi Delta checking for Boll Weevils and worked on the supply boats and the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. He saw Bear Bryant lose a football game in person and now from his home base in the Midlands offers breath-taking and thought-provoking commentary on a wide range of topics.
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