SNYDER: If lawsuits don’t kill NCAA, its members might

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The NCAA that we’ve come to know and despise is in critical condition with a prognosis that suggests the end is near.

The equivalent of flesh-eating bacteria are close to devouring the body from within. Outside, it is suffering injury from a series of blows that ultimately could be fatal.

External attacks include the trial in Ed O’Bannon’s class-action antitrust lawsuit, which enters day four Thursday in Oakland. Just as those proceeding got underway, the NCAA announced a settlement to pay $20 million to current and former college athletes who sued in a lower-profile case involving use of their likenesses in video games.

Organizations such as the National College Players Association also pose great harm. The NCPA has led a series of reforms to improve student-athletes’ rights and benefits since 2001, but the biggest victory yet could be on the horizon.

Northwestern is appealing a National Labor Relations Board regional ruling that the school’s scholarship football players have the right to unionize; the full NLRB will hear the appeal later this year.

Even if the full board overturns the decision — or even if a majority of the team voted not to unionize when secret ballots were cast in April — damage has been done and the issue will continue to simmer on back burners.

But the greatest threat to the NCAA as we know it could come from its own members.

We could be on the verge of an official split that acknowledges the cavernous gulf between the “Power 5” (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Southeastern) and the “Weaker 5” (American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Sun Belt, Mountain West).

The fat cats in Division I, being pummeled with lawsuits and public opinion, want to make concessions to the obvious — “We’re rich!” But they’re being held down by the small fry. And that frustration isn’t aimed solely at schools in the Weaker 5.

It’s understandable why schools like Ohio State (nearly 58,000 students) are questioning a system in which Ohio Wesleyan (fewer than 2,000 students) has the same voting muscle. That arrangement is making less and less sense as Power 5 bankrolls grow thicker and thicker.

Some are ready to separate from the riffraff, which would allow the well-heeled and moneyed to operate under their own rules on athletes’ compensation … like adopting the proposed $2,000 stipend for D-I athletes.

The full NCAA membership shot it down because some smaller schools can’t afford it.

“If you’ve got a $6 million athletic budget, you shouldn’t be worrying about what I do,” University of Washington president Michael Young told The Seattle Times. “You’re never going to compete with us. We don’t recruit the same players. We don’t even play on the same field. It just doesn’t matter.”

According to a USA Today database, Washington’s athletics department had revenue of $85 million in 2013.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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