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O'Bannon & (S)U: How the NCAA's Trial Loss Affects Syracuse

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The NCAA lost a landmark ruling on Friday, but let's not start celebrating just yet...

Jamie Squire

The NCAA lost the O'Bannon case yesterday. You may have heard about it if you were anywhere near a computer on Friday. SB Nation's Kevin Trahan sums everything up very well on the mothership, so if you're looking for a thorough bird's eye analysis, there it is. But for us, as Syracuse fans, there's a further conversation(s) that come out of the ruling. Despite perceptions that the results are very positive for players (they are, actually), some schools are now at a distinct disadvantage in this new system. We may be one of them...

First, the results:

  • Schools can offer recruits up to $5,000 per year out of a trust fund, and be safe under NCAA rules. But that outlay to recruits needs to be the same across the board, to each recruit the school pays. So if you pay one recruit $4,000, then every one needs to get that number, whether they're a five-star or not rated at all.
  • Schools don't have to offer money to athletes, as long as they at least offer scholarships at the cost of attendance.
  • Athletes still can't market themselves. Though they can be paid for use of their names, images and likenesses. Welcome back, EA Sports NCAA Football!

That last one is the basis for the whole trial, and every athlete wins based on that ruling -- regardless of the school they attend. But the first bullet is a pretty major issue for Syracuse, either now or down the road. As Trahan points out:

If there's a big winner here, it's the blueblood schools.

You likely remember Steven Godfrey's excellent "Meet the Bagman" story. Well this is that, but now in legitimate form and plainview, sponsored by each individual university -- and more likely, its athletic boosters. For most SEC teams, this is a perfect solution and a continuation of largely the same practices. Same goes for the upper crust of the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and Notre Dame, plus Clemson and Florida State (and I suppose you can make a case for a few other ACC schools too). But for everyone else, this is not at all ideal. We're everyone else, obviously.

The recruiting battles Syracuse is finding its way into right now have been broached without money exchanging hands (that we know of) or any financial incentive for players. That's how we're getting into the conversation with the FSUs, Wisconsins and Ohio States of the world for some better players recently. But under these new rules, things change a ton. All of those programs will likely be able to just toss the fully allowable amount of $5,000 at each and every recruit and call it a day. For Syracuse, however, it won't be that easy. We don't have the booster program, large-scale marketability, thriving local corporations, enormous alumni base or any of those other elements that would aid in providing that full amount. Which means we're offering less. Which means we're not getting these players. Unless...

We start cutting Olympic sports to go all-in on football.

Friend of TNIAAM Andy Pregler and I spoke about it briefly on Twitter yesterday, and Syracuse now has two choices if it wants to continue to be competitive on the football field: Grow its booster base and financial gifts for athletics, or (more likely) cut Olympic sports to make room for $5,000 trust offers to football recruits. There is no third option, and as pointed out, only one of the two available is more likely, and it's also the worst outcome.

Now, we could offer less than the $5,000 number, but that won't get the Orange the recruits it needs to keep up in a major conference. And if the ruling had allowed for schools to offer differing amounts to each recruit, that would have basically created a free market for both schools and players; schools paying the amount they felt they needed to in order to get a top recruit, and players making the choice that rewarded them most financially. Despite all the stress toward a competitive balance in this case, the opposite has occurred in its result. And now we face the consequences.

***

This is not to play out some doomsday scenario in which Syracuse can't keep up on the football field. It can, and very likely will, because it plays in a major conference and will do whatever is necessary to keep football afloat, regardless of the cost. But nonetheless, things are being tiered out within the major conferences now, even though we just did that on Thursday with the Power 5 autonomy vote. The non-power schools are hurt here in that they never have a shot at top recruits, but that should increase competition amongst themselves (and likely result in better football) and make for a more balanced Gang of Five. For the power leagues, however, there's just too much of a disparity between the haves and have-nots, that this ultimately creates a ruling class above the ruling class. College football has always been this way, of course. Just never this explicitly.

This has been a huge week for NCAA sports, and by default, Syracuse sports. And a lot of good has come out of these separate votes and court rulings. There's just some concern that comes with that, too. We'll be fine. It just may be at a steep price, one way or another.