Covering college football in 2014 requires many hats. You're a sportswriter half the year, and then a politics/economics/law reporter the other half of the year. The most important event on the college sports calendar from now until kickoff weekend is a trial that begins a week from today.
It's not why any of us got into college football in the first place, but it's a devil that must be dealt with regardless. In an attempt to bring you, the tunnel-visioned football coach, up to speed at a conversational level in a short amount of time, here is FootballScoop's Guide to the NCAA Unrest.
What's driving all this? Put it this way: tweets like this aren't lost on players - and all those that stand to benefit alongside the players.
The SEC isn't alone, either. The Pac-12 distributed more than $330 million to its member schools this year. The Big Ten will top that. Every Power Five conference is booking record revenues - and they're going up every year.
In 2010, the NCAA inked a 14-year, $11 billion contract with CBS and Turner Sports to televise the NCAA Tournament. In 2012, ESPN signed a 12-year, $5.64 billion contract to televise the College Football Playoff. That's $470 million a year for seven college football games.
How do the Ed O'Bannon trial and the Northwestern union case factor into this? The Ed O'Bannon trial began as a lawsuit aiming to recoup money EA Sports and the NCAA made off of college football and basketball video games. EA Sports recently settled with the players for $40 million, but this has gone well beyond that now. Lawyers on O'Bannon's side are now after the whole enchilada - television rights. They're arguing that players deserve a cut of the millions conferences and the NCAA receive from their television rights contracts. The trial begins June 9 in Oakland. "I think it's likely the players will win this suit," said Webster University economics professor Pat Rische.
At Northwestern, former quarterback Kain Colter (and his lawyers) rallied enough support from the Chicago chapter of the National Labor Relations Board to permit Northwestern players to hold a vote determining whether or not they should unionize. The vote was held April 26, but the results will not be known for weeks if not months. It's unlikely to pass, and it's unclear where that case goes from here. But it has gotten the nation's attention, which was Priority No. 1, 2 and 3. Timemagazine put this issue on its cover nine months ago, for crying out loud.
So, how do the major conferences plan to react? They are racing to meet the players in the middle. The Power Five - ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC - are in favor of providing cost-of-attendance scholarships and providing unlimited meals and snacks. The American has pledged to offer the same package as the Power Five as well. No one has provided hard and fast figures yet, but providing both cost-of-attendance scholarships and unlimited food figure to costs schools millions of dollars each year.
Both issues are proving to be more complicated than they first appear. Cost-of-attendance is pricier at Stanford than Iowa State, so Stanford would have to offer a larger sum to make up the difference. No one is exactly sure what it really means to provide unlimited meals and snacks. Some think it could become a tax issue, since scholarship athletes receive checks to cover the meals they're already afforded. Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione suggested bringing food trucks on campus to feed athletes.
To be clear, those with the means to provide more benefits to their players - coaches, administrators, conferences - want to provide beyond what they're currently allowed by NCAA rules. The line is different for every person. Steve Spurrier wants to give players cash. Not one university president agrees with him. But the point is, the desire to do more is there.
So, what's the hold up here? The NCAA moves with the fluidity and urgency of a sloth with a belly full of turkey and wine. Also, there are a lot of schools with a say in this process that may not necessarily want to throw the status quo out the window.
“We would love to be part of the NCAA Division I, but we're in a squeeze here,” Florida president Bernie Machen told CBSSports.com. “There are now six lawsuits that name our conference and specifically have to do with the whole cost of attendance. Our conference. Yet we would like to make changes and yet we can't because the NCAA doesn't allow us to. We're really caught between a rock and a hard place. We desperately would like some flexibility.”
How many votes would it take to give the Power Five this so-called autonomy? Three-eights of Division I, or roughly the entire size of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
What happens if they don't get their way? Commissioners have threatened to create a so-called Division 4.
What's that? A full-fledged division where the power conferences could operate completely within their own sphere.
Do you mean breaking away from the NCAA? Attica! Attica! Attica! Not exactly. Commissioners have also said they don't want to mess with the existing NCAA championships, specifically March Madness. On top of that, the NCAA does a lot of bureaucratic dirty work that the conferences would prefer to avoid.
Why do they call it "Division 4" when Division I is the largest classification and Division III is the smallest? Shouldn't it be "Division 0"? That sounds much more ominous. I don't know. It doesn't make any sense to me, either.
My eyes are now glazed over with boredom. Can we get a hype video to play us out? Absolutely. I'm glad you asked.