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June 28, 2013 — The shape of college sports

This past week, I had some conversations with various people in the sport of field hockey. While many of them were under the cover of “deep background,” I did manage to engage a couple of people in conversation about the subject that Milton Kent, in “Sports At Large,” covers this week. Have a read, get a sip of water, and then come back to read the next paragraph.

The O’Bannon case that Kent mentions is one that could blow up the collegiate sports scene like a Doomsday cobalt-salted nuclear bomb. The profiteering that U.S. colleges have been making off their student-athletes — in perpetuity, I might add — is shocking, pervasive, and shameless.

The video games, which allow the player to be Bo Jackson running against the Michigan State defensive line anchored by Bubba Smith, make millions for the universities, but not for the former players.

If the NCAA loses its antitrust exemption through the courts, all sorts of chaos could ensue. There could be nothing from stopping Notre Dame, Texas, USC, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, and Auburn from breaking away from the NCAA to form a football superconference.

There could be nothing stopping USA Field Hockey from creating an FIH-sanctioned field hockey league based out of university campuses, featuring graduate students and alumni/ae playing alongside actual current students.

Don’t think it could happen? Brigham Young University’s men’s soccer team opted out of NCAA competition a decade ago and operates a USL Premier Development League team on its campus.

I think, however, that there are several sports which could be irrevocably damaged by a ruling in favor of O’Bannon and the plaintiffs. Men’s ice hockey and baseball, where 18-year-olds are routinely drafted into the pros, and have several tiers of minor-league player development, and an unguaranteed NCAA could very well be cut out of the player development structure.

The same could very well happen in basketball, and the NBA would likely have to find help from USA Basketball to expand the current D-League from the current 17 teams to as many as 32 or even 64.

Stay tuned for the outcome of this.

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