Deep inside Gerald Gurney's blue satchel, is the NCAA's 2019-20 Division I Manual. He practically brings it everywhere with him.
Gurney is an expert in intercollegiate athletics. A graduate of the Ohio State University, where he studied higher education, he has a passion for student athletes and is a believer they should be paid. He currently teaches a "pay-for-play" class at the University of Oklahoma, as well as an intercollegiate athletics course.
This week, the NCAA announced they are "starting the process to enhance name, image and likeness opportunities" for student athletes — a monumental move for the future of college athletics. However, many people, including Gurney, remain skeptical that the NCAA — who has been reluctant to change until now — will actually follow through.
The Daily reached out to Gurney to hear his take, and he's more than qualified to weigh in. He's an executive board member and past president of the Drake Group, a group "dedicated to the defense of academic integrity in higher education from the corrosive aspects of commercialized college sports." He's also a co-author of the book "Unwinding Madness: What Went Wrong with College Sports — and How to Fix" which takes a deep dive into college athletics and the underlying issues of the NCAA.
The Daily sat down with Gurney Thursday to discuss what the NCAA's announcement means not only for college athletics, but also OU.
The Daily: You've been advocating for this for a long time. So did you see this finally coming?
Gurney: The answer to that question is that I knew categorically that the NCAA was about to cave. And that was because I saw first the California fair pay to play act pass. And then after that, seven additional states were in the process of developing very similar bills to the California bill. The NCAA's reaction to the California law was to threaten them with ineligibility -- nobody's going to play California schools. And that is total nonsense. The NCAA is not going to ban USC, UCLA, Cal Berkeley or Stanford.
So I knew that the NCAA would soon have no choice. In addition to that there are also three federal bills that are in the works, and the NCAA has lobbyists, so they know what's going on and they saw the writing on the wall. Ironically, the week before Mark Emmert gets up, and proclaims that providing names images and likenesses revenues to have leads is tantamount to compensating them. Well, a week later, he's caving. So he is a political animal. So yeah, I knew it was coming.
The Daily: It feels like the NCAA is just trying to stall with this announcement. Is that how you view this?
Gurney: The NCAA right now is posturing. They're trying desperately to keep this notion of amateurism, where they can control their labor force. The NCAA is nothing more than a trade organization. And it's a trade organization to preserve the interests of conferences, conference commissioners, athletic programs, athletic directors, athletic administrators and even college presidents. Because their main interest is in providing revenue for universities first and foremost, so they're going to protect those interests.
And so they're posturing now about keeping the collegiate model and amateurism. Well, I have news for the NCAA: Amateurism, according to the NCAA’s definition, is dead. They have to redefine that.
When you read the principle of amateurism, it says that the student athlete is there primarily for an education. Now that may be true for some, but for football and men's basketball, it's pretty doubtful. They're there primarily to get into the pros, particularly at the power five schools. They're also saying that this should be considered an avocation, a hobby. So really, college athletes are going to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning and lift weights every day, and then go out to the practice field and bang heads for a hobby? Are you kidding me? It's laughable.
In addition to that, they said that participation in intercollegiate athletics should be for the social benefits. Is it really like a fraternity or something where they're doing it for the social benefits? And then they say, which is the real kicker, that athletes need to be protected from the evils of commercialism and professionalism. Yeah, they're going to protect the athlete from commercialism while they take the money.
Amateurism is dead. So we're looking at a model right now that is irrefutably in transition. We don't know exactly how this is going to come out. But the NCAA is trying desperately to get ahead of this by saying, “well, we'll control the fashion in which athletes can gain revenue through their names, images and likenesses.”
That's like the fox guarding the hen house. The NCAA is a walking conflict of interest. For many decades, the NCAA has lived off of the labor of these athletes by providing, particularly in football and men's basketball, a second class education and pretending like they're there to be real students and they're getting a world class education. It's nonsense.
The Daily: So do you have any faith that they'll get this right?
Gurney: Well, they'll try to come up with a plan. But I think that the federal government looks at this -- there is some law where it is interstate commerce. The federal government is going to be doing this for them, whether they like it or not. They may try for a while, but eventually, what we're seeing is the disintegration of the NCAA. As I said in my opening lecture on unwinding madness, what is likely to happen is a split. Where the power five conferences will become quasi-professional and the rest of them will go into a more academic model.
The Daily: How do you see this affecting major programs and schools like Oklahoma?
Gurney: The way this will be affected is that 85,000-plus fans will show up for the games, watch the contest, enjoy them, and no one will give a darn whether Jalen Hurts does a commercial for a car dealership. I would ask you, do you really care? I don't know if the public cares at all.
This is nonsense. This is a long time coming. And then the next question is, what about the media broadcast? How are they going to handle that? They're using their names, images and likenesses? What if Jalen Hurts does an interview after the game to talk about the game? That's the use of his name, image and likeness. So how is he going to be compensated? When are the athletes finally going to get a piece of their labor?
It would be very different if the NCAA offered them a real chance for an education. A real world class education, then they have a product that they can seriously offer these athletes. But in my 31 years of working with athletes and listening very carefully to them, I'm convinced that the value of the education that they became disillusioned by this world class education that they're being offered where they're funneled into particular majors, where there is 43.3 hours a week in athletic related activities. These are not students. They're tantamount to employees.
The Daily: Jalen Hurts is going to benefit a lot more from his name, image and likeness then say, the starting point guard for the women's basketball team. How do you manage that?
Gurney: The University cuts apparel deals for example, where they get 10 cents to the dollar on every little item that's sold through the Collegiate Licensing Corporation (CLC). The CLC can also negotiate a deal for all athletes to get a percentage. What is an athlete's jersey worth? What is Jalen Hurts’ No. 1 worth? People buy his jersey not for the number on its back but to emulate Jalen Hurts.
There is plenty of revenue for all athletes, including women in all sports. In addition to the star players, it's not going to be limited just to the star players.
The Daily: How do you police all of this?
Gurney: That's a role for the compliance office.
So if I'm in Norman, Oklahoma, and I have gazillions of dollars and I see a recruit that we want, and I say to the recruit, “I'm going to give you a deal for $500,000 if you come to Oklahoma. If you don't come to Oklahoma, you're not going to get it.” That would be a violation. That would be a serious recruiting violation. So that has to be monitored. The compliance office has to monitor what kinds of deals the athletes are getting. However, I don't think the NCAA should be the judge and jury of whether or not a deal should be turned down. I think it needs to be an independent body. Because the NCAA is a conflict of interest.
The Daily: Where do you see this going in the next 5-10 years?
Gurney: I think the NCAA is going to implode under its own weight and greed. I think that they are treading very closely to having an employment relationship with the athletes and it becoming a professional operation for the most wealthy programs in the country, and then an eventual split.
In the meantime, the NCAA, which has a huge war chest for legal defense, will continue to fight this in the courts. And they will be challenged every time. No matter what model the NCAA will come up with, trust me, the antitrust lawyers on the athletes side are going to take them to court immediately. They will sue them.
And this will go on and on and on until eventually, the NCAA will implode.