OAKLAND, Calif. – NCAA President Mark Emmert supports a plan to allow the five biggest college conferences to give athletes more money to cover school costs, but draws the line at paying them beyond that for what they do on the basketball court or football field.
Testifying in a landmark antitrust lawsuit filed against his organization, Emmert said Thursday he believes there is a clear difference between the proposal to pay athletes a few thousand more dollars a year and giving them the equivalent of a salary.
“You’ve moved into realm where you’re compensating student-athletes for something other than the legitimate cost of being a student,” Emmert said about giving athletes even more money than the conferences are proposing. “You’ve now moved into pay for play.”
Under friendly questioning by an NCAA attorney, Emmert also defended the concept of amateurism, which he said has been a core principle from the time the NCAA was founded in 1905 to today. He said college athletics would not be the same if the primary focus of an athlete entering school was on getting paid for playing sports instead of getting an education.
“It’s one of the most fundamental principles of the NCAA and intercollegiate athletics,” Emmert said. “They have always seen and assumed that intercollegiate athletics is about the notion that these are members of the student body. They’re not hired employees conducting games for entertainment. They’re not a random group of folks that just come together to play sports.”
Emmert’s testimony came in a much-anticipated appearance as the NCAA tries to convince U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken that its system of so-called amateurism is not anti-competitive and is the best model for regulating college sports.
Watching closely from the plaintiff’s table was former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, who along with 19 other former players is seeking an injunction that would allow players to band together and sell the rights to their names, images and likenesses (NILs) in broadcasts and video games. O’Bannon testified on the first day of the trial last week that he went to UCLA to play basketball and that he was a student grudgingly at best.
Emmert said if some schools paid their players for their NILs and others didn’t it would create such an uneven playing field among schools there would likely be no national championships in football and basketball.
“Direct payment as an inducement (to recruits) is obviously fundamentally different than to say you’re going to be in this locker room or that stadium,” he said. “Member schools would certainly find that an uncompetitive situation and wouldn’t want to be a part of a championship that is driven by that.”
Emmert contends sports unites campuses and helps schools recruit faculty and students. He says the athletes learn life lessons from competing at all levels and he couldn’t imagine universities without sports.
“It provides a social glue, if you will, that holds campuses together,” he said.