All eyes are on Oakland


It was the name of a book that prominently featured Parkersburg High School graduate Nick Swisher when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics.

It’s also a desciption of the sports world in today’s society, where athletics is one of our biggest businesses.

Professional sports salaries are astronomical. There are Major League Baseball players who make more in one week than many hard-working Americans will make in their lifetimes.

It seems out of control, especially to old-timers like me who remember that such sports greats such as Mickey Mantle and Wilt Chamberlain played for $100,000 a year, an amount that incensed many fans as being far too much to pay any athlete.

All eyes will be on Oakland this week, where a federal judge is about to make a ruling that could change the face of athletics as we have known it for so long.

Judge Claudia Wilken has listened to testimony and is about to rule on whether college athletes should be paid. If she says yes, the NCAA says the ramifications could be disastrous.

In 2009, Ed O’Bannon, a former basketball player who was a member of the 1995 UCLA national championship team, filed a lawsuit claiming America’s antitrust laws require the NCAA to eliminate its ban on cash payments to football players and men’s basketball players for use of their names, images and likenesses in merchandise and television broadcasts.

Among the exhibits before Judge Wilken is a list of extravagant athletic facilities that NCAA member schools have constructed in the last five years at a cost of $5 billion. That includes a $37 million dormitory at Ohio State that is described as over-the-top luxurious.

This is an age-old issue. Should college athletes -especially those in the most high-profile sports share in the profits they are creating for their schools.

Critics will point out that those athletes are being paid in the form of a scholarship that allows to earn a degree for which non-athlete students must pay and pay dearly.

Proponents have calculated that college athletes could be paid as much as $1.2 million during their careers.

Whoever loses will appeal the decision and keep it tied up in court, allowing the status quo to continue.

But sooner or later -likely later given that the federal court system moves at tortoise-like speed -the face of athletics could be transformed by the stroke of a pen and/or the banging of a gavel.

Although I would rather be writing about athletes and their accomplishments, this issue is too important to ignore.

It could virtually eliminate amateur status as we have long known it.

It could make college sports a version of professional sports leagues, which in a way they already are, except now we could have monetary bidding wars for the services of 5-star recruits. And you know what will happen should that day ever come -the rich will get richer and those without the resources to compete will become second-class athletic programs unable to compete with the haves.

Moneyball is alive, but it may soon take on a whole different meaning.

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