“The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Price-fixing labor is price-fixing labor.”
Indeed, that labor is rewarded with college scholarships — and there is value in that. But for the most famous athletes in the most popular sports, it is silly that they should not profit when fans purchase a jersey with the athlete’s name on it.
Eventually, the decision will allow athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness, or NIL. If the quarterback is the most famous person in Pullman, he can, say, do TV ads for the local car dealer.
All of which resonates with Dan Dickau. A Prairie High School graduate, Dickau made it to the NBA by way of Gonzaga University.
“Would I have loved to have made some money on the side? Absolutely,” he said in a phone interview. “Was I a good enough player to have quietly been offered something when being recruited? Absolutely not. I think the NIL is definitely a step in the right direction. They should have the opportunity based on their ability.”
Which returns us to the larger question: Why are august institutions of higher learning the training ground for pro leagues in football and basketball? “College football and college basketball started long before professional football and basketball,” Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College and longtime chronicler of college sports, told me a while back. “They were established.”
So, the system that enthralls millions of fans and generates billions of dollars is largely an accident of birth.
Baseball, on the other hand, started at the professional level during the 1870s. That is why a minor-league system is the primary training ground for future major leaguers, and it is why aspiring baseball players have an option coming out of high school: Play in college while working toward a degree, or go to the minor leagues.
College baseball, of course, does not enjoy the popularity of college football or basketball. But that popularity has been subsidized by a system that is inherently unfair to the athletes and is, we now know, unconstitutional. It is subsidized by a system that should be supplemented by minor leagues.
As Zimbalist said: “Athletes who want to go to the NFL or the NBA wouldn’t have to go to college and pretend that they’re students and go through the rigmarole of college.”
Until that happens, endless questions about compensating college athletes will continue to go in circles. And that is certain to land the NCAA in front of the Supreme Court for another tongue-lashing.