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The debates and commissions about reforming college sports nibble around the edges—trying to reduce corruption, to prevent the “contamination” of athletes by lucre, and to maintain at least a pretense of concern for academic integrity.
“Their organization is a fraud.”Vaccaro retired from Reebok in 2007 to make a clean break for a crusade. Jon King, an antitrust lawyer at Hausfeld LLP in San Francisco, told me that Vaccaro “opened our eyes to massive revenue streams hidden in college sports.” King and his colleagues have drawn on Vaccaro’s vast knowledge of athletic-department finances, which include off-budget accounts for shoe contracts.
“The kids and their parents gave me a good life,” he says in his peppery staccato. Sonny Vaccaro and his wife, Pam, “had a mountain of documents,” he said.
Hausfeld read to me from page 390: The college player cannot sell his own feet (the coach does that) nor can he sell his own name (the college will do that). (He is now 89.) Was that part of the plaintiffs’ strategy for the O’Bannon trial? “I’d rather the NCAA lawyers not fully understand the strategy,” he said.
This is the plantation mentality resurrected and blessed by today’s campus executives. He put the spiny book away and previewed what lies ahead. “We know our clients are foreclosed: neither the NCAA nor its members will permit them to participate in any of that licensing revenue.
In signing the statement, the athletes attest that they have amateur status, that their stated SAT scores are valid, that they are willing to disclose any educational documents requested, and so forth. “You can’t get to the bottom of our case without exposing the hypocrisy of amateurism, and Walter Byers says it eloquently.” An assistant brought in Byers’s memoir.
Already, Hausfeld said, the defendants in the Ed O’Bannon case have said in court filings that college athletes thereby transferred their promotional rights forever. It looked garish on the shiny table because dozens of pink Post-its protruded from the text.
These were eminent reformers—among them the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, two former heads of the U. Olympic Committee, and several university presidents and chancellors. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them.
Not all the members could hide their scorn for the “sneaker pimp” of schoolyard hustle, who boasted of writing checks for millions to everybody in higher education.“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry? You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir,” Vaccaro added with irrepressible good cheer, “but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. I can only offer it.”William Friday, a former president of North Carolina’s university system, still winces at the memory.
Stifling thought, the universities, in league with the NCAA, have failed their own primary mission by providing an empty, cynical education on college sports.
The most basic reform would treat the students as what they are—adults, with rights and reason of their own—and grant them a meaningful voice in NCAA deliberations.