With March Madness right around the corner, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is using some tenacious defensive play in the courtroom—and its entire concept of the amateur athlete may be at stake.
Next week, oral arguments are set to begin in an appeal made by the college sports association in the case of O'Bannon v. NCAA, a suit originally brought by Ed O'Bannon, who played on the 1995 national championship basketball team from UCLA.
Last August, federal Judge Claudia Wilken in O'Bannon v. NCAA ruled that the association violated antitrust law by prohibiting athletes from the Football Bowl Subdivision—the roughly 125 schools formerly known as Division 1-A—and Division 1 men's basketball from being compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses.
Wilken ordered that schools be allowed to offer the athletes full cost-of-attendance scholarships and place up to $5,000 per athlete, per year of eligibility, into a trust. Cost-of-attendance scholarships allow universities to increase the amount of money they provide to athletes to cover cost-of-living expenses that fall outside of the bounds of current NCAA scholarships.
The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment.
Some conferences have begun allowing members to offer full cost-of-attendance scholarships. Now, schools have to figure out how to cover for the extra cost.
"Funding full cost of attendance scholarships will impact our budget by approximately $1.7 million," said Phil Esten, Penn State's deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, who added that some schools are funding them "from their operational budget, while others are seeking increased university subsidies. In many cases, it's a combination."
Schools in conferences without lucrative television deals have fewer options from which to find funding.
"Some mid-major conference schools are scratching their heads, asking how they'll get the money," said an athletics director at a mid-major university who wished to remain anonymous. "Some are raising ticket prices. Others are asking their state legislature."