For the first time ever, the NCAA seems scared.
Donald Remy, the NCAA's vice president for legal affairs, released a statement Friday night on the ongoing O'Bannon case, saying that the result could end the very notion of amateur status in football and men's basketball. While the NCAA has long sounded confident with regards to the O'Bannon case, Friday's statement is tinged with fear.
Here's the full text:
College sports today are valued by the student-athletes who compete and all of us who support them. However, the plaintiffs' lawyers in the likeness case now want to make this about professionalizing a few current student-athletes to the detriment of all others. Their scheme to pay a small number of student-athletes threatens college sports as we know it.
In particular, we would lose the very real opportunity for at least 96% of NCAA male and female student-athletes who do not compete in Division I men's basketball or FBS football to play a sport and get an education, as they do today.
In terms of actual content, there's nothing that the NCAA hasn't been saying for years as it tries to hold on to a logically untenable stance. What's noteworthy about this statement is not the message, but the tone and the timing (six current BCS-conference seniors joined the plaintiffs a day earlier).
Appealing to the public by trying to cast the plaintiffs as selfish seems rather desperate. Read this statement the NCAA released just 10 days earlier, in response to an O'Bannon counsel request that the NCAA not punish potential student-athletes joining the case. It's got bravado. The NCAA sounds like it feels above all this, as if responding to a legal opponent is no more concerning than swatting away flies.
Go back a little further, to the statement the NCAA released during the NFL Draft, which cast the O'Bannon suit as "baseless theories supported only by inaccurate speculation."
Now, the NCAA has changed its tune. It isn't an unassailable, permanent fixture of American sports. It's fighting a "scheme" that "threatens" its very nature, and it wants to make it perfectly clear that it, and allegedly non-revenue athletes, is the victim.
Trying to warn the public about the selfish, money-grubbing nature of the O'Bannon plaintiffs is not a move a confident NCAA makes. And considering the way it has sounded in the past, it speaks volumes.