We shouldn't assume paying players would hurt small schools

USA TODAY Sports

Conference USA's commissioner accidentally made the O'Bannon plaintiffs' point for them.

A common defense of the NCAA model is that if players were paid, small schools wouldn't be able to afford to keep up. Of course, those schools already can't keep up — that's why Alabama, not Troy, gets all the top recruits — but what's misunderstood is that an NCAA loss in the O'Bannon case wouldn't necessarily put more of a financial hardship on small schools.

That didn't stop Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky from pushing forward the "small schools will struggle" theory in his testimony at the O'Bannon trial on Monday, claiming that some schools would be forced to drop football if some revenue had to be shared with athletes.

Banowsky speculated that if schools are forced to share 50 percent of their television revenue with players, schools will have to share $500,000. Of course, it's extraordinarily unlikely that players will get 50 percent of the revenue — it's more likely to be 10 percent at the most — but even in the NCAA's worst case scenario, schools are not going to drop football.

If the schools really do need all of their football revenue to fund other sports, they're not going to leave $500,000 on the table just because they have to share another $500,000 (in the 10 percent scenario, they're certainly not going to leave $900,000 just because they have to share $100,000). Some of these schools are cash-strapped, but that's because they're paying for unnecessarily long non-revenue sport road trips, facilities they can't afford, and high coach salaries.

But it doesn't appear these schools are as cash-strapped as they say. Banowsky said he supports allowing schools to provide athletes with scholarships that cover the full cost of attending the university. As it turns out, those scholarships would be roughly equivalent to paying players a percentage of their NIL (name, image, likeness) money.

After a week straight of struggling with its witnesses, the NCAA just put a conference commissioner on the stand who essentially admitted that paying athletes with television money would be reasonable. That's not ideal for an organization that is trying to prove the O'Bannon proposal would be a financial catastrophe, particularly for smaller schools.

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