Big 10's Delany hurts NCAA's case

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Players' attorney Michael Hausfeld had a long list of items he wanted Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to address when he took the stand on the 10th day of the Ed O'Bannon v. NCAA trial.

Surprisingly, Hausfeld heard the answers he wanted before even asking Delany a question.

During Delany's direct questioning from NCAA attorney Luis Li, Delany had offered opinions that some college athletes spend too much time participating in their sports and freshmen shouldn't be eligible to compete so they can focus on their studies. Further, Delany had said, athletes should be given multiyear scholarships -- instead of one-year grants-in-aid that can be rescinded by a coach for seemingly any reason -- to help ensure they complete the work toward their academic degrees.

After nearly 2½ hours of testimony, it might have been difficult for observers in the crowded courtroom to determine whether Delany was testifying for the plaintiffs or the defense. In fact, the NCAA might have been just as well off sending a member of the Drake Group or Knight Commission to the stand. The members of those academic think tanks, which have been highly critical of the commercialization of college sports, might have provided similar answers.

"Mr. Delany explained ... the reforms that he wants and that haven't happened and that require the approval of the NCAA and its members," players attorney Bill Isaacson said after court. "[He listed] all the ways athletes are classified differently from students. They are concerned that what we are proposing will result in a different classification. What Mr. Delany was describing was the all the ways that they're different now. Everybody knows that."

During Li's questioning, Delany, a former basketball player at the University of North Carolina and one of the most respected power brokers in college sports, said he believes once college basketball season ends, "we should put a lock on the gym." Delany said he believes it would be more beneficial for athletes to spend their summers away from sports, focusing on their academics or studying abroad.

Isaacson said the fact that many college athletes now practice, compete and prepare for their sports year-round makes them different from other college students -- and more like professional athletes.

"We don't think about a major college football player taking a semester abroad," Isaacson said. "With our children at colleges, it's one of the top things that colleges say: 'Think about our study-abroad programs.' We don't even think about that opportunity for college football players. It's just one of a long list of reasons they're different now. They're not integrated into academics. All that can be improved, and none of that will be hurt by sharing some licensing money."

Delany's testimony shot yet another hole in the NCAA's best defense to the O'Bannon efforts to transform the way college sports currently operate. The plaintiffs -- led by O'Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player -- are seeking an injunction from U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken to prohibit the NCAA from limiting what FBS football and Division I men's basketball players can receive monetarily for the use of their names, images and likenesses in television broadcasts, video games and other forms of marketing.

The NCAA's attorneys and their witnesses argued throughout the first two weeks of the trial that a pay-for-play system would irreparably damage the integration of academics and athletics on campuses while also destroying the competitive balance of college sports.

Delany and NCAA president Mark Emmert, who wrapped up seven hours of testimony before the Big Ten commissioner took the stand, both insisted that amateurism is at the core of the NCAA model.

If the NCAA can succeed in persuading Wilken in the non-jury trial that those balances must be protected, it will establish a justification of its rules prohibiting paying players, which, given testimony thus far, appears to be a clear violation of the nation's antitrust laws.

Delany, though, through his frank answers, didn't seem to help the NCAA's case on Friday. He has repeatedly talked about the reforms he wanted, but his words seemed to carry much more weight Friday with so much on the line for college sports' governing body.

Players' attorneys have argued that the NCAA and its member schools have failed to hold up their end of preserving amateurism, which is protecting their student-athletes from commercial exploitation. Again on Friday, Isaacson showed Emmert examples of student-athletes being featured on school marketing that included corporate logos.

"You heard a lot of testimony from Dr. Emmert about where reform is coming and where it's not," Isaacson said. "He talked about cleaning up the rule book and making it easier to read, basically a deregulation agenda, and maybe that makes sense. But he fully admitted that there's no reform agenda for commercial exploitation or commercialism."

At one point during Emmert's testimony, Isaacson asked him if he made Nick Saban the highest-paid coach in the country when he was LSU's president, and Steve Sarkisian the highest-paid employee in his state when he was president at the University of Washington. Emmert said he'd signed off on both coaches but didn't start the trend of escalating coaching salaries.

"You heard what the previous NCAA presidents were like and that they were echoing the same concerns that are no longer being said," Isaacson said. "It makes sense when your new NCAA president made Nick Saban the highest-paid coach in the nation. You're not going to make that person, no matter how distinguished or how smart, the person in charge of your agenda for reigning in commercialism."

NCAA managing director of research Todd Petr finished Friday's testimony by taking the stand and trying to explain how money is accumulated and distributed by the NCAA, a subject that has seemed to intrigue Wilken throughout the trial.

As the lawyer was nearing the end of Petr's explanation of how the NCAA spends nearly $850 million annually, Wilken interrupted.

"Are we done with all the money?" she asked. "Where's the rest of it?"

Apparently, Wilken had been adding what she was hearing.

"We're up to about $500 million," she said. "I'm looking for the big picture."

After her math was corrected, she learned there was only about $55 million missing -- pocket change in today's college sports.