With Supreme Court ruling, NIL legislation and transfer rules, college athletes now hold the cards | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Monday’s unanimous Supreme Court decision in Alston v. NCAA wasn’t the big one, at least not yet.

Like many Supreme Court decisions, the focus was narrow. This wasn’t the Name, Image and Likeness case that will change college athletics forever, if the NCAA can’t abandon its “amateurism forever” stance and come up with a workable plan.

This was, instead, the perfect shot off the tee that leaves only about 6 inches to the hole. The language in Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion (which also included a shoutout to Tuscaloosa) was clear. The NCAA is “not above the law.” That includes antitrust law. When you hear the word “antitrust” from the bench, consider yourself warned. 

The NCAA and its member schools will try to come out with the best deal they can, but the athletes are holding the high cards. Strategies, like the curious decision to appeal Alston at all instead of taking what was on the table, will have to change.

The world of college athletics will change with it. The perfect storm — NIL, liberal transfer policies and today’s ruling on amateurism — isn’t just coming; it’s here.

THE RULING:Supreme Court rules against NCAA in antitrust case in unanimous decision

HURT:New SEC transfer rule might close doors for high school recruits as rich get richer

Will the competitive balance change much in football and basketball? Maybe not. The teams with big financial support, facilities and television access of the right sort will have a head start. They also will be the ones who can negotiate at the highest levels of name, image and likeness. Yes, the guy at Ed’s Used Cars will be able, presumably, to offer a recruit a deal, but whether Ed can arrange a multimillion Nike endorsement package remains to be seen. 

In his feature on transfers who have come to Alabama in the past, The Tuscaloosa News’ Nick Kelly describes a world as quaint as the corner malt shop. All that will change and the free market will rule.

What does that mean? At the highest level, it’s supply and demand. It’s not just identifying and paying the best high school quarterback, although that will be the new model. With the free transfer, it means every quarterback. It’s not just the late bloomer who blossomed at North Dakota State. I’m hesitant to use a specific name because of the backlash from fans who will react with “but Trevor loves Dabo …” or “Tua would never have left Tuscaloosa …”

White quarterback Bryce Young (9) rolls out to avoid the rush during the University of Alabama A-Day game Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Maybe, maybe not, but when you see the teams in the College Football Playoff with star quarterbacks, there is nothing to stop Texas or Georgia (or Alabama) from putting that love to the test with $3 million or so on the table. That doesn’t just mean after high school. That means after a Heisman-winning sophomore season at USC or Ohio State. If Bryce Young has a stellar sophomore season, then Alabama.

I’m not saying everyone will leave, or that college payrolls will match those in the NFL (remember that NFL teams carry 30 fewer players on their rosters). The NCAA will try to prevent a Wild West scenario, although it will need a Wyatt Earp, not a Mark Emmert, wearing the badge.

Change leads to more change. When athletic departments need more revenue to compete at facility-building or compensation for athletes in sports that usually generate little revenue, well, say hello to the 32-team College Football Playoff. If athletic departments can’t survive on that and NCAA basketball money, hard decisions will have to be made.

Does Toledo try to keep up with Ohio State at those prices, or do presidents and trustees decide that the Ivy League model doesn’t look so bad, even if their academics aren’t Ivy League? Or, who knows, do Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates decide that Harvard football has been kicked around enough and that they are bringing in Nick Saban and the entire Crimson Tide roster in a hostile takeover?

No one knows precisely what shape college football will take in the future, but no matter what happens, it will be altered forever.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt.