Wednesday, October 29, 2008
NCAA unlikely to wage war on fantasy site
By Jack Carey, USA TODAY
October 28, 2008
WASHINGTON — The emergence of fantasy sports leagues using collegiate athletes' names and statistics in apparent disregard for NCAA amateurism principles has the attention of the reform-minded Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which debated the topic at Monday's meeting where commission member Nick Buoniconti criticized the NCAA for what he called a "weak response" to the issue.
The CBS site Sportsline.com this year introduced a fantasy football game that utilizes NCAA players and their statistics, after a court ruling over a similar issue involving major league baseball players was decided in favor of another fantasy league provider.
The NCAA asked CBS to cease implementation of the football league because of the association's amateurism bylaws but has been reluctant to take legal action because of the court ruling in the baseball case.
CBS pays the NCAA $6.2 billion for the rights to the annual Division I basketball tournament.
Buoniconti, a former Miami Dolphins star, who serves on the Board of Trustees at Miami (Fla.), chided the NCAA for not standing up for players.
"I've always though the NCAA doesn't act as an advocate for student-athletes but represents universities," he said. "The NCAA should be leading the fight for student-athletes. Go back and examine your response to fantasy football and every other area of commercialization that could exploit student-athletes. Go back and review what your purpose is."
Wally Renfro, senior advisor to NCAA president Myles Brand, said understood the sentiment but maintained the NCAA's hands are tied.
"I think no matter how passionate you feel about this, I've yet to hear an argument that the association has the standing to take this on legally," Renfro said. "The association does not own the publicity rights of the student-athletes, and that's what this case is about. The association has taken on a number of cases in which it has looked at protecting the rights of the student-athlete. This is one in which the association has not been able to identify a standing for doing so."
Although players themselves could likely try to take CBS or a similar fantasy game provider to court, Renfro said he's not sure if anyone wants to.
"I've not heard an uproar or even a murmur (from players) that they take issue with this," he said. "I'm not going to say they don't care. I'm just unaware what their position is."
Former Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, addressing the commission on athletes rights and commercialization, said he'd like to see former players who are now college administrators or in the business world form an advocacy group for current and future players. One idea, he said, would be to explore the possibility of fantasy league providers setting aside some profits from the games to fund post-graduate scholarships for athletes.
"There probably needs to be athletes or former athletes spearheading such a campaign, working in conjunction with the NCAA and universities and conferences to try to secure the brightest future for these student-athletes," he said.
CBS had no comment on Krenzel's suggestion, according to LeslieAnne Wade, senior vice president of communications. Neither would the network release the number of fantasy players in its football game. There is no cost to enter games and no prizes are awarded. And, according to Wade, while a basketball fantasy game has been discussed, there is nothing officially planned yet.
One site, U-sports.com, charges to play its college fantasy game and advertises $35,000 in prizes.
The issue of athletes rights continues the long debate over whether players should ever be compensated. But after Northwestern president Henry Bienen said athletes already receive thouusands of dollars in scholarship money and special services like tutoring, Buoniconti, a former Notre Dame player, said during a break, "That's bull. We earrn every single nickel of that scholarship. We put seats in the stadiumm. We put seats in the skyboxes. What do you tink the TV networks are showing?"
The commission also received a report from James Isch, the NCAA's senior vice president of administration and chief financial officer, on the association's efforts to improve the accuracy of financial data reported by Division I athletic programs and on the overall health of Division I programs.
In fiscal year 2006, the report showed, only 19 of 118 schools in the NCAA's Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) generated revenue that exceed their expenses. The 99 schools who had expenses exceeding revenues lost an average of $8.9 million that year.
Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College, said that since some coaches are making as much as eight or 10 times more money than presidents of universities, the NCAA should seek an antitrust exemption from Congress in order to reign in salaries and implement more control.
"That idea has been talked about from time to time, virtually for as long as I can remenber," Renfro said. "But it's never been one that has gained much popularity among our membership, that has been perceived as one that we would have high success at getting, or that if we got, would necessarily be one that member institutions would ascede to.
"At the end of the day, even if you had the exemption, member institutions would have to agree to cede authority to the association to have a larger role in determining spending than it does today. And institutions are very jealous of their autonomy in that area, because (schools) are so varied in nature. It's so difficult to find a path that is satisfactory to a majority of institutions.