Tom Farrey details information in NCAA ‘student-athlete’ story

With more than 2,000 comments and a combined 1,300-plus “likes” and re-Tweets, Tom Farrey’s latest piece for ESPN.com has certainly got people talking.

One part receiving a bulk of the attention from Farrey’s story is that the NCAA’s senior policy advisor suggested in a memo to president Mark Emmert that the organization consider dropping the term “student-athlete” after half a century of official use. But the story has many fascinating facets revealed from depositions and emails “unsealed this week in a class-action lawsuit by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and other players.”
Front Row caught up with Farrey to further discuss the story.

What was the volume of documents you looked over and what surprised you most form what you saw and read?

Tom Farrey

This is a significant, contentious lawsuit that has generated a huge amount of discovery, most of which has not yet been unsealed or introduced into the court file. The NCAA wants to keep much of it confidential, as there is internal correspondence, financial information and other materials that can shed light on the business practices of the organization and its relationship with partners. The lawsuit represents one of the first real opportunities to peek behind the curtain of the NCAA.

The NCAA’s economic model is based on the idea, as senior policy advisor Wally Renfro puts it, that college athletes are amateurs but college sports is not. What surprised me was how a NCAA insider such as Harvey Perlman, the University of Nebraska chancellor and a former member of the NCAA board of directors, would so forcefully reject the notion that the images of athletes can be sold to third parties — he called it a “catastrophe” in the making.

I also found extremely revealing the emails sent around by executives at the Collegiate Licensing Co., which has been in business with the NCAA since the 1970s and handles licensing with third parties. The emails suggest that CLC, Electronic Arts, and even NCAA member schools knew well that video games were being created with specific, actual college athletes in mind — that they aren’t just generic avatars. Those actions seem to stand in contrast to the NCAA’s long-standing claim that it protects athletes from commercial exploitation.

What’s next in this story; are you currently working on more reporting related to the O’Bannon case?
I will continue to follow developments, as long as my Outside the Lines editors want.

There will be a number of opportunities for news or compelling features leading up to the O’Bannon trial, set for early 2014. A key hurdle is getting the players in the anti-trust claim certified as a class by the judge, meaning they are similarly situated and can move forward as a group.

Response has been very strong. Why do you think that is?
“Pay for play,” as we call the effort to allow players to share more in the revenues generated in college sports, is one of those issues that many fans already have made up their minds about. At this point, all that’s left to do is good reporting and analysis that helps people understand where the issue is headed next and what it means for the various stakeholders. To that end, the feedback we have received from our news story last night has been tremendous — people found the revelations to be insightful. We hope to keep serving fans in that manner.