Judge in Ed O’Bannon Case Appears to be Leaning Toward Decision to Radically Change College Sports

By Posted on: June 24th, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article, Football, News 5 Comments »
Former UCLA Player Ed O'Bannon brought suit against NCAA in 2009. (photo:Isaac Brekken/AP)

Former UCLA Player Ed O’Bannon brought suit against NCAA in 2009. (photo:Isaac Brekken/AP)

In July, 2009 former UCLA All-American Basketball Player Ed O’Bannon filed a suit against the NCAA to allow players to sell the rights to their names, images and likenesses for use on television broadcasts and in video games.

The problem with that:

The NCAA has always viewed college athletes as amateurs. The official line from the NCAA states that, “All student-athletes are required to adhere to NCAA amateurism requirements to remain eligible for intercollegiate competition.”

The amateurism rule includes restrictions against student athletes signing professional contracts with professional teams, receiving money above actual and necessary expenses, receiving a salary for participating in athletics, or receiving benefits from a prospective agent. All of which may be in jeopardy should the plaintiffs succeed.

The three week case is set to end this week.

Those that have not closely followed the trial may be surprised that the outcome will not be decided by a jury but by a single judge (named Claudia Wilken). I’m not sure that a jury trial would be more fair to either side but one thing is troubling. The future of college athletics will be decided by a person who knows little about college athletics.

Judge Wilken may be an excellent antitrust judge but she has demonstrated a lack of knowledge during the proceedings about the basic structure of college football. Last week she was surprised to discover that the bowl games are run by bowl committees and in yesterday’s proceedings she asked a witness what he was talking about when he referred to the BCS, the FBS, and the CFP (College Football Playoff).

Early in the trial she instructed the NCAA lawyers that “amateurism” was a word she didn’t feel had any bearing on the case. Yet that goes to the very heart of the NCAA’s position which states that, “In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.”

To anyone who has followed the proceedings, it’s easy to see that Judge Wilken is leaning toward the plaintiffs’ side. For one thing, she has already publicly stated she has a problem with the NCAA’s no-pay rule.

If she issues an injunction against the NCAA and it is upheld on appeal, the new model of college sports will be radically different from what it has looked like for the past 108 years.

While some may view that possibility as a victory, the ramifications could signal a defeat for non revenue producing sports. In addition such a decision will put college sports in the marketplace bringing with it salaries, player unions, and possible labor disputes.

The judge will hear final arguments Friday and take a few weeks to issue her decision. While it is impossible to predict how Judge Wilken will rule, after two weeks of hearing the case, it doesn’t look good for the NCAA.

Do you feel a decision in favor of the O'Bannon law suit would be good for college athletics?

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He Was an Auburn and SEC Legend

By Posted on: June 17th, 2014 in Basketball 2 Comments »
Auburn photo file.

(Auburn photo file)

Although he made his home in the Birmingham area, he grew up in Atlanta playing high school ball for Sylvan Hills High. After leading the Bears to two state championships he went on to become an SEC Legend at Auburn University.

It was hard to believe the news that he had passed away last Tuesday. It hadn’t seemed all that long since I talked with him in February at the Tiger Trail reception in the Auburn Arena. Always approachable, Lee DeFore was one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.

One of his former team mates Bill Alexander said he remembered him as a man of “Absolutely impeccable character.” A true Auburn man, Alexander continued, “And we could see his basketball skills from a statistical perspective. They speak for themselves.”

And speak they did. Lee was the first Auburn Basketball player to ever score 1,000 points. He was a three time All-SEC player and was named All-American in 1966.

One of the best shooters to ever come through Auburn, he scored over 30 points seven different times. The Team Captain led the Tigers in scoring all three years and led the conference his last year.

He set nine school records, averaged 24 points per game in 1966-67 and finished 11th in the nation in free throw percentage (.853). When he left Auburn for the New York Knicks, he did so as the Tigers’ all-time scoring leader.

Even after more than 40 years, he still ranks 5th on Auburn’s all-time scoring average with 19.0 points and 16th in all-time scoring with 1,386 points.

In 2006 he was named to Auburn’s All Century Team and was featured at the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament that same year as an SEC Legend.

Lee had been an active Alumni member and was at one time the president of the Auburn Letterman’s Club. His passing is a big loss for the Auburn Family – and even bigger one for his immediate family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.

Change on the Horizon for SEC as Part of NCAA Super Division

By Posted on: May 28th, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article, Football, News, Other Sports 6 Comments »
hi-res-7507498_crop_north- Mike Slive

                                      SEC Commissioner Mike Slive (photo:Marvin Gentry,USAToday)

The spring meetings of the South Eastern Conference got underway yesterday in Destin, Florida. And for the first time in several years SEC scheduling is not the hot button issue. That decision was put to rest (at least for now) April 26th when the league voted to keep the 6-1-1 model.

However, there are several important issues to be considered this week by the presidents, athletic directors, and head coaches from the revenue producing sports of football and basketball.

On the agenda will be the discussion of programming for the new SEC Network and more importantly how the revenue sharing will be handled. In addition, AD’s and football coaches will consider the best way to respond to growing national interest in an early signing period.

It also looks like the issue of alcohol sales at SEC games will be on the table. However, Commissioner Slive said Tuesday that, “Discussion will be about neutral sites not covered by the SEC rule preventing on campus sales.”

And despite Bret Biliema’s denial yesterday, it’s a safe bet that talk will surface about his and Nick Saban’s proposal to force offenses to wait 10 seconds before snapping the ball to slow down the Hurry-Up-No-Huddle offense. After all Biliema has not missed an opportunity yet to push for a change in the game.

The most significant topic though, will be the so called “Autonomy” proposal under consideration by the NCAA.

Probably as a result of the Ed O’Bannon law suit and the Nortwestern NLRB decision the NCAA Board of Directors gave tacit approval last month to a proposal that would allow the five big conferences to come up with a plan to govern themselves.

Under the proposal the Big-5 conferences (SEC, Pac-12, Big10, ACC, and Big10) would still be under the NCAA umbrella but would have the authority to set their own rules.

Some of the things to be decided are:

* How much latitude in governing themselves will the Big-5 have? 
* Will this mean the larger Universities will be able to grant “full cost of attendance” scholarships?
* And if increased  financial aid is awarded student-athletes, will it be across the board to every sport or just football and basketball?
* Will a new subdivision affect more than the ability to provide student-athletes a financial stipend?
* Will there be separate rules governing the recruiting process?
* Will it result in easier transfer rules for football as in the other sports?

Those questions and more have to be hammered out before a new super subdivision can be created within the NCAA.

The league has to decide this week what position it will take on the various questions because the Division I Board of Directors meets the end of August to vote on the Big-5′s separating from the rest of Division I schools.

We wrote in this space a few weeks ago that the times are changing in college athletics. Jay Coulter’s Tuesday article about the possible removal of conference divisional play is just one example of those changes. And the mere chance that the NCAA would consider allowing 65 schools to basically write their own rules is proof of just how much change is on the horizon.

How do you feel about allowing the Big-5 Conferences to operate under a separate set of rules than the rest of the NCAA?

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Nick Marshall Gets the Heisman Treatment

By Posted on: May 6th, 2014 in Basketball, Football 13 Comments »
sporting news

Lindy's MarshallIn a season where most of the conference will be looking for a quarterback, Auburn has the luxury of finally returning one for a second season. Combine that with last year’s breakout season and you can understand why Nick Marshall is getting so much preseason attention.

The preseason magazine season is upon us and a few have already leaked their covers to the public. Marshall will grace the front of both The Sporting News and Lindy’s when the publications are released later this month.

Marshall is already listed on every major Heisman watch list. With Gus Malzahn finally having the luxury of a second year with a quarterback, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the senior quarterback hoisting that trophy in December.

How the team does on the field will go a long way in determining who wins. Unlike the days of Bo Jackson, the Heisman typically goes to the best player on the best team (or at least one of the best teams).

With a reinvigorated receiving corp. and Marshall’s arm getting better in the off-season, there’s every reason to believe he will be much improved from last season. Scary…

An article in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution suggests that former Auburn blocker Greg Robinson could squeeze out South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney for the top spot in Thursday’s NFL Draft.

Rumors continue to swirl that the Falcons are interested in trading up for the first pick and will select Robinson over Clowney.

Robinson is the most dominating blocker in the draft over the last decade, according to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

“He’s the most dominant point-of-attack player on the offensive line that I’ve ever evaluated (going back to 2002).”

Tell us something we didn’t already know…

Bruce Pearl is the real deal. During last week’s finals at Auburn, the first-year basketball coach showed up unannounced at midnight with a trunk load of donuts for students pulling an all-nighter at the library.

Pearl personally handed the snacks out and posed for pictures with sleepy students. It’s hard to imagine Tony Barbee ever doing anything like this for the kids. Say what you will about Pearl, he’s a keeper. And I guarantee it will show on the court.

Until next time…

My Soul Will Forever Yell War Eagle!

By Posted on: April 22nd, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article, Football, News, Other Sports 6 Comments »
tiger-trail-226948ae08eccf05- Doc Robinson, anthony hall, auburn media

Auburn great, Doc Robinson with Auburn Media Relations Director Chuck Gallina, and former Auburn AD David Housel at 2014 Tiger Trail Induction Ceremony. (photo:Anthony Hall/Auburn media relations)

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend Auburn’s walk of fame (the Tiger Trails) induction ceremony by a tailgate friend from Texas. Holly Byrd usually attends the event to represent the Greater Houston Auburn Club. However, this year Holly was recuperating from a back injury and ask that I do her a favor and attend in her place.

Holly needed help getting items autographed to be auctioned for the Houston Auburn Club scholarship fund. Since I had never attended one of these events and this gave me the opportunity to help a member of the family as well as future students, I was glad to help out. However, while I thought I was doing Holly a favor, turns out she did me one.

You see I was not prepared for the type of night that lay ahead. I just thought there would be a handful of people there to witness some presentations. But there were close to 200 people that gathered for the festivities in the Auburn Arena. And folks I was wowed by what I experienced. It was honestly a blessing to be in attendance.

The event was MC’ed by former Auburn AD David Housel with legends and former inductees like Lloyd Nix, Buddy McClinton, and Terry Henley among the attendees.

Unquestionably a family event, it reminded me of my wife’s family reunions. I say that because while I didn’t personally know most of those gathered, there was a spirit which was truly ‘all in the family.’ Auburn people share that special bond and it is the basis of what makes Auburn University so unique. It didn’t matter if you were an Auburn All-American, a coach, or just a fan; everyone mingled and talked like they were at a family reunion.

It was great fun talking with Coach Malzahn, Coach Pearl, Coach Person, and Coach Tuberville as well as with this year’s inductees. A big highlight for this writer was to meet and talk with one of my childhood heroes … All-American and First Round NFL Draft pick Ken Rice; who was there on behalf of  his friend Cleve Webster.

Yet the best came not during the social hour but during the program and the nominees acceptance speeches. For a sentimental guy like me it was a moving experience. As the stories flowed from those like Tommy Tuberville who spoke of his two great running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams to David Marsh, who talked about cancer victim and former Auburn swimming coach Richard Quick‘s love for Auburn… the entire evening was an inspirational affair – one which just reinforced my love for Auburn.

I’m not ashamed to admit that tears welled up in my eyes more than once as each recipient spoke of their love for their alma mater and the impact being a Tiger had on their lives. Four time All-American soccer player, Megan Rivera said, “I came away from Auburn not only with an education but with life experiences that made me what I am today.”

Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams along with Ronnie Brown were First Round NFL Draft picks. “Coming back to get inducted,” Williams said was, “An awesome feeling. It just goes to show you what kind of place Auburn is.”

David Housel who said, “The Tiger Trail symbolizes the past that we celebrate today as well as our hope for  the future,” asked Brown to hold up his one year old son, Rhys, from the podium. Housel added, “One day Rhys will be a young man and will walk the streets of Auburn and look down and say that plaque is for my daddy, Ronnie Brown.”

Perhaps the best moment though came from former NBA star and Auburn All-American point guard Doc Robinson, who summed up the feelings of Auburn people everywhere when he ended his acceptance speech with:

“I want to thank my Auburn Family, my teammates and the coaches who were here then. Without them, none of this would be possible. – My heart will forever bleed Orange and Blue and my soul will forever yell War Eagle.”

Me too Doc, me too!

Editor’s note:
If your an Auburn person, you owe it to yourself to attend next year’s induction. You can bet I’ll be there.

‘The Times They Are A Changing’ – Whether NCAA Likes it or Not

By Posted on: April 16th, 2014 in Baseball, Basketball, Featured Article, Football 3 Comments »

When news broke Tuesday of the NCAA’s change in the meal policy for student athletes it hardly registered a blip on the sports media radar screen as a big deal. The governing body’s Legislative Council approved a change that will now allow unlimited meals and snacks to all Division I student-athletes, including walk-ons. That’s big news – not for the immediate impact of the change but as a precursor for things to come.

The NCAA always is a reactionary body and the change is a direct result of what has been blowing in the wind the past year. In general, the Ed O’Bannon law suit and the NLRB’s ruling allowing Northwestern athletes the right to form a union; and more specifically in this case, the comments made last week by  this year’s Final Four MVP Shabazz Napier who said that he often had, “hungry nights when I go to bed and I’m starving.”

On the surface, you would think that the NCAA’s action is a no brainer. Most people probably didn’t even realize that student athletes (all of whom are involved in heavy physical training) were limited to three meals a day with no snacks in between. However, the NCAA if anything is never out in front of a problem. They only react to situations. Such is the m.o. of a bureaucracy.

Shabiz is not the first athlete to complain of not having enough to eat. But make no mistake, this action is of much larger significance than more food for student athletes. This is the NCAA trying to close the barn door after the horse has already escaped. I’m afraid concessions like this may be too little too late.

The NCAA is attempting to say, ‘see there is no need for a union rep because we are responsive to the needs of our student athletes.’ Don’t get me wrong, I fully support providing athletes with all their nutritional needs and other expenses. What I don’t support is the unionization of college athletes.

Like Nero, the NCAA has been fiddling, while a firestorm of discontent has been growing larger around them. It would be easy to point the finger at Mark Emmert and since this has occurred on his watch, he certainly bears some culpability. However, it is far greater problem than one man. Again, it is due to the slow mechanization of a bureaucracy as well as resistance to change.

The larger question here, is what will become of college football as these issues are played out in the courts? I will go on record here and say this is one man that thinks the unionization of scholarship athletes is a bad, bad idea. I know there is an insane amount of money in Division I college football and the ‘full cost’ of the athletes has not been covered. I get that. But college players are either scholarship athletes or they are employees – they can’t be both.

As scholarship athletes they are currently receiving a free college education worth anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 a year depending on the college. In reality, colleges spend more on athletes when you add in their meals, their free weight training, conditioning, nutritional help, books, free medical, and academic tutoring.

On the other hand as an employee, the athletes would share in the profits, be able to sell their likeness and autographs, and have the right (as in the NFL) to player representation as well as collective bargaining. Anyone ready for the loss of a football season because of a labor dispute between management and players?

Also as an employee the employer would have the right of dismissal. In the business world when an employee is not pleasing their employer they are subject to being fired. Imagine coach ‘A’ doesn’t think that player ‘B’ is working out. He/she has an attitude or maybe seems to be injury prone. As an employer, Coach ‘A’ just fires them. How does that help the student get an education?

Because the NCAA has not responded appropriately or in a timely manner to student athlete needs and concerns, we are now faced with this quagmire of an uncertain future. The NCAA’s free food rule change is only a band aid to a much larger issue and a harbinger of bigger changes ahead. To quote that great American musician and song writer, Bob Dylan :

“The wheel’s still in spin, and
There’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the winner now will be later to lose
For the times they are a-changin”

Whether the NCAA likes it or not.

Bruce Pearl’s Open Letter to the Auburn Family

By Posted on: April 15th, 2014 in Basketball 7 Comments »

New Auburn Head Basketball Coach, Bruce Pearl released the following open letter today to the Auburn Family asking for support as he attempts to rebuild the Tiger program.

Pearl says he plans for his Tigers to play for championships and he needs the Family to help in the quest by filling the Arena. “There are some who believe it (championship basketball)  can’t be done …  at Auburn.”  But Pearl says he is hoping to prove the naysayers wrong with the Family’s help.

Return of the The Rifleman – “A Very Special Day for Auburn Basketball”

By Posted on: April 8th, 2014 in Basketball 7 Comments »
Chuck Person, Auburn's all-time leading scorer, was a 1st Round Draft pick and NBA Rookie of the year in 1986.

Chuck Person, Auburn’s all-time leading scorer, was a 1st Round Draft pick and NBA Rookie of the year in 1986.

The greatest basketball player in Auburn history is coming home to coach at his alma mater.

Chuck Person, known as the Rifleman during his All-American career at Auburn has been hired by Head Coach Bruce Pearl as an assistant coach. He helped lead the Tigers to an SEC Tournament Championship and three NCAA Tournaments  including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1985 and the Elite Eight in 1986.

Since Pearl’s hiring, Chuck has made no secret of his desire to return to The Plains. He said last night that’s it’s a very special day for him.

The NBA legend said, “This is the only college I would have taken a job at. My heart and my path took me to the NBA but this, Auburn University, my school, is the only job, the only school that I would come back to, to be a coach, whether it’s as a head coach or assistant coach to be a part of. This is my life. This is where I want to be. I’m home. Short of a catastrophe, nothing can take me from being here at this school.”

It’s a homerun hire for Bruce Pearl. Not only is he getting a great coach, but the Rifleman being from Alabama and having 14 years of experience in the NBA will mean a big boost to recruiting.

Pearl said, ” I don’t know if I could have made a stronger statement. This is a very special day for Auburn basketball.” We agree Coach. A very special day indeed.

Editor’s Note:
Be sure to check out Coach Person’s press conference interview below this article.