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The Future of College Athletics



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I’ve been reading  “Present at the Creation,” the memoir of Dean Acheson, who served as President Harry Truman’s secretary of state. In the book he shares his closeup view of the architecture of the post-WWII new world order. 

Secretary Acheson captures the intense dynamic that played out between the victors and the vanquished as the era that came to be known as “the Cold War” was constructed.

How does this relate to intercollegiate athletics at West Virginia University, you may ask? In truth, it’s been a timely read—with all of the external pressures and influential decisions affecting our industry right now, I often feel like I am present at something akin to the creation of a new order for college sports.

The football team at Northwestern wants to form a union. In order to do this, the football players must first show that they are employees of the university. The National Labor Relations Board field officer has ruled that they   are, in fact, employees, and his decision is now on appeal. Claudia Wilken, a federal judge in Oakland, recently ruled in the O’Bannon case that the NCAAhas violated numerous provisions of the Sherman Antitrust Act. She restrained the NCAA from prohibiting annual payments of $5,000 or less to football and men’s basketball players. And to complete the troika of momentous decisions in college athletics, the NCAA Board of Directors has allowed the “Power 5” conferences—Pac 12, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and SEC—substantial autonomy to make decisions about matters related to football and student-athlete health, safety and welfare.

So what does the future hold? What will you as a member of the Mountaineer family see in the next few years? Almost certainly you will see our studentathletes receiving a stipend that represents the full cost of attendance, which could be as much as $3,000 per year for full scholarship students. There is a strong push to mandate guaranteed four-year scholarships, and some are even calling for a “lifetime scholarship,” which would provide any student-athlete with the opportunity to receive a graduate degree in addition to an undergraduate degree. More than likely, the NCAA will allow us to provide extended medical care after the athletic eligibility has expired. And we are planning to provide better academic support and career training for our student-athletes.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the NCAA reacts to Judge Wilken’s ruling regarding the payments to football and men’s basketball players for name, image and likeness rights.

Will these payments be put in a trust until the student graduates or exhausts his eligibility? Must all football and men’s basketball players be provided the same payment? And perhaps most importantly, how does the judge’s framework comport with Title IX? It is difficult to predict how this particular issue will play out because of all the uncertainty.

It will also be interesting to see how student-athletes themselves test these new waters. Will we see student-athletes endorsing local restaurants or car dealerships in advertisements? Will they charge fees for making appearances or signing autographs? Will student-athletes actually create and market their own merchandise bearing their own name and likeness? These are all possibilities.

One thing is for sure. The ruling has the potential to be a proverbial game-changer—to fundamentally change the 100-year-old relationship between student-athletes and their universities, forever altering the landscape of national college athletics. 

Oliver Luck signature

Oliver Luck, BA, ‘82, History, is director of intercollegiate athletics and associate vice president at WVU where he was quarterback of the football team from 1978-81. A Rhodes finalist, Luck went on to play for the Houston Oilers as a second-round draft pick. After his football career, he served as vice president of business development for the NFL, president and CEO of NFL Europe, and president of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamos. He currently chairs the Big 12 Budget and Finance Committee, and serves on the NFL Player Safety Advisory Committee and on the inaugural College Football Playoff Committee, which will change the face of the college football national championship.