OAKLAND — NCAA President Mark Emmert took the stand Thursday in the Ed O'Bannon class-action antitrust trial against the NCAA.
In front of a packed courtroom, NCAA attorney Glenn Pomerantz began by taking Emmert through his educational career, which has included six Division I schools.
Emmert's testimony then went to the heart of the issue for the NCAA: Intercollegiate athletics, he said, are the "social glue" for universities.
"The fact that you're playing on a sports team provides enormous lessons in life," Emmert said about student-athletes.
Emmert, who pointed out that schools must offer 16 sports to qualify for Division I, and he made the point that the schools make the rules.
"The association is a membership association made up of about 1,100 universities," he said. "They come together to make policies."
Emmert then began chronicling the NCAA's history. When the association was founded in 1905, he said, the participants had to be full-time students and amateurs.
Asked if "student-athlete" was a fair term, Emmert said, "Yes, they are full-time students who play."
And as such, they are not paid to do so, Emmert said. He said athletic scholarships "have never been considered payment…but the cost of education." He then explained that to mean the "expenses incurred through being a student." Any compensation beyond that, Emmert said, would constitute "pay for play."
Pomerantz, the lead attorney for the defense, also had Emmert discuss in detail how the NCAA works, testimony in which he stressed that it is a member-run organization, not a top-down system. Emmert also stressed the level playing field that the NCAA seeks in its competition, a notion that he said would be undermined by a system in which some conferences offer compensation for an athlete's name and likeness and others do not.
Emmert's testimony comes against a backdrop of NCAA governance reform that would lend greater autonomy to the conferences with the greatest resources. Under reformed system, schools could offer greater benefits — but not pay — to their student athletes as their budgets permit.
What if colleges didn't have revenues from athletics?
"I suspect most would move toward a D-III model if they continued in sport," Emmert said.
"To convert college sports to professional sports would be tantamount to converting it to minor league sport," Emmert said.
Continuing on that theme, Emmert was asked if amateurism rules were essential to the goal of competitive balance? "Essential,." he said. If the model is "pay for play," he students would choose schools based on payment. And that, Emmert said, would raise the specter of big schools "stockpiling" players and hurting smaller schools.
If schools paid for name, image and licensing, would it affect competitive balance? "I can't see how it wouldn't," Emmert said.
When Pomerantz asked Emmert if schools join Division I just for the money, he said, "Only if they are bad at arithmetic," noting that most athletic programs do not make money. They do it, he said, for social cohesion and to raise the school's profile. The costs of conducting the games, building and maintaining facilities, paying coaches and personnel "simply exceed the revenues," he said.
If a school paid players for name/image/likeness, would other sports get cut? "I'm confident of it," Emmert said.
After a break, Pomerantz continued his direct examination by taking Emmert down the path to illustrate integration of academics and athletics.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken asked, "What if the money were held in trust for them until after they're done?" Emmert responded that they would borrow against it.
"They would be perceived now as professional athletes and be in a different category within the athletic program," he said.
After about two hours under direct examination, plaintiffs attorney Bill Isaacson began his cross-examination.
Isaacson directs Emmert to former NCAA president Myles Brand's 2003 state of association address, where he referred to a "crisis of commercialization."
Pomerantz objected, telling the judge he was worried that there would be a "parade of documents" from before Emmert became president.. Wilken overruled, saying that since Emmert was asked historical questions on direct, they can proceed.
Isaacson showed an NCAA ad from the BCS championship program "celebrating 75 years of March Madness." The ad showed several players and logos for AT&T, Coke and Capital One. Other illustrations. Iowa football team photo with giant Nike swoosh above/behind them.
Emmert responded that the ad does not imply the athletes are endorsing those companies.
The plaintiffs — led by former UCLA basketball player O'Bannon — are seeking an injunction that would prohibit the NCAA from limiting what Bowl Subdivision football and Division I men's basketball players can receive for playing sports and for the use of the names, images and likenesses in in live television broadcasts, re-broadcasts of games, video games and other forms of marketing.
At present, NCAA rules limit college athletes to a scholarship basically comprising tuition, room, board, books and mandatory fees. The association is arguing that the limit is legally justifiable because it has a series of impacts that enhance consumer choice and competition among the schools.