Knocking Down the Mountain
Ed, Sonny and Latavious chip away at the NCAA.
by Ryan Jones
You never know what’s going to make your morning.
Today, happiness was sitting down for my daily 10-minute skim of the New York Times. (A note about that: I’m not one of those East Coast liberals who only reads the Times; I also check World News Daily every few hours to find out the latest on where “President” Obama was really born, and to order more lawn signs to replace the ones my commie neighbors keep stealing. They probably believe in global warming and everything. Stupid commies.)
Anyway, where was I? Yeah, reading the Times this morning. On like page 14C or something, I found this story by Pete Thamel (who I think is one of the paper’s main college sports writers, and who, from what I saw at LeBron Camp a few weeks ago, might give Roy Williams a run in the most-absurd-offseason-tan competition. You’ll have to trust me on this) about Ed O’Bannon (I know that’s Charles on the cover below, but we rarely have an excuse to run that cover, so there it is) suing the NCAA. It’s a great story. Do you know why? It’s a great story because it’s about the NCAA having to defend its greed and hypocrisy in court. As the elements of great stories go, this one is can’t-miss.
I was going to post something really, really short on this topic — “God speed, Ed” or something like that — but then our own Ed. pointed out this bit of news regarding Memphis signee Latavious Williams, and convinced me to tie the threads together and write something longer on the subject. The general theme, we agreed, would be “F the NCAA.” Which, as should be clear by now, is a theme I’m always happy to promote.
(Unnecessary aside: ATLiens just came up on iTunes. Now my afternoon is made, too.)
But back to the point: F the NCAA! Even in a best-case scenario, today’s news is obviously not going to financially bankrupt the already-morally bankrupt folks at the double-A, but I’m a big believer in small victories. First, the story of Ed O’Bannon leading a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA claiming that, in the Times‘ words, “former athletes should be compensated for the use of their images and likenesses in television advertisements, video games and apparel.” Which is crazy, right? Don’t these ungrateful kids know they already got a free education? Er, some of them, anyway?
Maybe if UConn would pay Jim Calhoun a decent salary, more than a third of his players would complete their degrees.
I’m old enough to know better than to be optimistic about little guys suing bigs guys for a rightful slice of pie, but a couple of points in the Times story have me hopeful. One, the firm filing the suit sounds pretty bad-ass, having “recovered billions of dollars for clients worldwide on cases ranging from slave labor during World War II to price fixing.”
“Slave labor?” At the risk of being inappropriate, they’ve got applicable experience on this one, don’t they?
And two, the apparently independent academic expert on sports economy quoted here says, “I think this is a fairly clear-cut ethical issue that the NCAA is asking for trouble on… they have to look at the phony and false way they try to delineate what amateurism is.”
Phony and false? Without question, that is the governing body I know and love.
Somewhat less terrifying to the NCAA, I’d imagine, is the news that Latavious Williams is bailing on his commitment to the University of Memphis to play professionally…somewhere else. I should say I don’t know much about young Mr. Williams. Prepstars has him 110th in their final Class of ’09 rankings, meaning that while he’s probably a very good high school player, he’s not likely to be a program changer or anything remotely resembling a guaranteed pro.
Knowing that, one could argue that Williams is stupid to pass up a free education and the chance to improve his game at what has recently been a very good program. But then we read that Williams hasn’t qualified academically and wasn’t guaranteed to be able to play next season anyway. What to do? According to Williams’ “adviser,” the kid looked at his options and decided to bail on the Tigers (whose previous coach, you may remember, bailed on the program and a bunch of recruits a few months back for more money and prestige) and take a stab at playing pro ball overseas (potentially in China?!) instead.
Smart move? I have no idea. Unlike, say, Brandon Jennings, whose European (Paid) Vacation I applauded (and correctly predicted would be successful) because I knew a fair amount about his personality and his game, I have no clue if Latavious is cut out for this. He could go over there and end up looking every bit as foolish in his overseas sojourn as a certain West Coast emcee with a stunningly overinflated opinion of himself (yes, even by rap standards) and a strange infatuation with the footwear choices of a certain East Coast emcee he’d like to think he’s a rival of…
If you’ve got a half hour to kill — and I mean that as literally as possible — enjoy The Game in Madrid!
But as I said about Brandon, and as any reasonable person with a soul must agree, it’s his decision, isn’t it? His choice to get paid (if he’s good enough to get someone to pay him), as opposed to playing for free at a school that may or may not bother doing anything to help him get a degree, and whose new coach could bounce just as unexpectedly as the last one did the second a better offer comes along. On principle, I hope it works. If you don’t suck at life (or aren’t a blinders-wearing Memphis fan), you’ll be rooting for him, too.
(Unnecessary aside, update: Roir Sessions just came up on iTunes. Yesss.)
The inevitable connection on this that’s not actually a connection in this case? Sonny Vaccaro, of course. Somewhat surprisingly, Sonny is apparently not involved in Williams’ decision to skip college for the overseas pros (which probably doesn’t bode well for Latavious’ chances, but that’s neither here nor there.) But Sonny is involved in the O’Bannon suit — which is O’Bannon’s suit in name only; Sonny apparently contacted him a month or so ago about being the lead plaintiff, and the Times story quotes Vaccaro saying it’s “one of the happiest days of my life.” I sometimes think no one could hate the NCAA more than I do. Then I’m reminded that Sonny is the father to my style.
(This is Ed O’Bannon. Obviously.)
The connecting thread here, obviously, is the NCAA’s continued ability to take advantage of the young people who generate billions for it and its media partners. Latavious probably isn’t a threat, though his success overseas, even if it comes in a low-level league, would be terrific — for him, obviously, but also for the cause of justice. Ed and Sonny, on the other hand, can make a serious f*cking dent. It’s a sort of strange time to be testing the major leagues’ antitrust status, but hey, why wait? Pulling it off would change the face of college sports for the better, perhaps drastically so.
And that would make my year.