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What will $2.8B NCAA settlement mean for future of college sports, smaller programs like Bradley?

Bradley University men's basketball players and fans celebrate in the final seconds of their win over Drake in the 2023 regular-season finale at Carver Arena. The NCAA and five major conferences recently announced a $2.8 billion class action settlement that paves the way for college athletes to get paid. But how this will impact smaller conferences and programs like Bradley isn't entirely clear.
Joe Deacon
/
WBCU
Bradley University men's basketball players celebrate in the final seconds of their win over Drake in the 2023 regular-season finale at Carver Arena. The NCAA and five major conferences recently announced a $2.8 billion class action settlement that paves the way for college athletes to get paid. But how this will impact smaller conferences and programs like Bradley isn't entirely clear.

College sports are heading into new territory after the NCAA and five major conferences agreed to a court settlement that paves the way for paying players.

But exactly how this will play out isn't entirely clear, and one Bradley University professor who has studied college sports says the announcement poses more questions than answers.

The landmark $2.8 billion settlement still must be approved by a federal judge, but the agreement is expected to see more than 14,000 current and former student-athletes compensated over a 10-year period. The class-action claim alleged that these athletes were prevented from earning money through endorsements and sponsorships by now-defunct NCAA rules.

Josh Dickhaus, the director of Bradley University's Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication, says many details regarding these payments remain unclear.

“The biggest thing that is unclear is how they're going to come up with all the money, because it dates back to 2014,” Dickhaus said. “So are they going to go back to every Division I athlete and give them money? I don't know, is it $5,000 or whatever?

“Is it only certain sports that are going to get paid? Is that only certain players from certain sports that are going to get paid? Are there Title IX issues we're walking through here? How are they going to decide the allocation of how much falls on to the mid-majors (conferences), how much do they have to pay?”

Josh Dickhaus
Josh Dickhaus

The Big Ten, Southeastern Conference (SEC), Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12, and Pac-12 joined the NCAA in announcing the settlement on May 23, calling it “an important step in the continuing reform of college sports.”

In addition to the back payments, the agreement is also expected to result in direct payments to student athletes beginning as early as the fall of next year. Dickhaus says that also presents a host of complications.

“Going forward, is it just standard practice that if you're a Division I athlete, you get paid? Or do you say, ‘Hey, football is the big moneymaker (so) they get $5,000 a year, and basketball, they get $3,000, and these other sports aren’t revenue generating so (those players) don't make money,” Dickhaus said. “That's a major concern. It seems like there's a lot of hurdles here; it certainly seems safe to say that this is the end of amateurism in college sports.”

WCBU reached out to the Bradley athletics department. A spokesperson said no one was able to discuss the NCAA settlement at this time.

Dickhaus says the settlement goes along with a recent trend of athlete empowerment, following “name, likeness and image” (NLI) compensation and the emergence of the transfer portal. He says it's another clear indication that money drives college sports.

“Not just money, football money. I mean, this has been – we've seen a period of change in college sports for some years now. There were some of the great basketball conferences that were torn apart as we've seen conference realignment, and a lot of it seems to be squarely aimed at finding the big football money,” Dickhaus said.

But where does that leave a sports program like Bradley that doesn't have football, or a basketball-powered league like the Missouri Valley Conference?

“A question that is yet to be answered is: how much money are mid-major conferences supposed to give into this fund, if you will? And that is a great question, where do conferences that don't have football programs factor in?” Dickhaus said. “I think what we have here is a situation where there's a lot more questions than answers right now. It almost seems like the NCAA is hoping to lay this out and say, ‘OK, can we make this go away?’”

A Bradley Braves banner is visible above sections of upper bowl seats at Carver Arena. The NCAA and five major conferences recently announced a $2.8 billion class action settlement that paves the way for college athletes to get paid. But how this will impact smaller conferences and programs like Bradley isn't entirely clear.
Joe Deacon
/
WCBU
A Bradley Braves banner is visible above sections of upper bowl seats at Carver Arena. The NCAA and five major conferences recently announced a $2.8 billion class action settlement that paves the way for college athletes to get paid. But how this will impact smaller conferences and programs like Bradley isn't entirely clear.

The constantly shifting landscape of college sports sees the MVC in flux after Missouri State – the program with the conference’s largest athletics budget – announced it will move to Conference USA in July of next year. Dickhaus says a move like that could continue a domino effect.

“We're seeing massive conference realignment, right? The Pac-12 is essentially gone; there's like 18 teams in the Big Ten, or something like that,” Dickhaus said. “Does losing a member as valuable as Missouri State, does that signal a weakening of the conference? Can you find a school to replace them?

“Do other conferences come looking to pick off other members of the Missouri Valley, right? Does Bradley get an offer from a conference? I don't know. But I wouldn't be surprised if those kinds of conversations come up as other conferences that are established conferences are looking to sort of replace the teams that have been taken from them.”

Dickhaus says all the changes underscore the dynamic in college sports where programs aren't on a level playing field, and paying for players may broaden that imbalance. He adds that paying student-athletes in a way makes them de facto employees, which presents a whole host of ramifications.

“There's a lot of things that a student-athlete on a scholarship gets for free that could now be taxable, including: if they get paid, that's taxable income,” he said. “Will they have to purchase their own health insurance? The gear that they're given out – clothes, etc. – will they have to pay for that now? Could they, in essence, if they are underperforming, just be fired? So I'm not sure that those were questions that were fully thought of from the players’ side of it.”

Dickhaus added that equity issues present another major concern, especially when it comes to women's programs and lower profile sports that don’t generate revenue.

“I've been asked by students for years about paying college athletes and I’ve said, ‘You know, my thought has always been that I don't know where the endless supply of money would come from,’” Dickhaus said. “Based off of Title IX, that you can't walk in and say, ‘the point guard on the women's basketball team is a star, but women's basketball doesn't generate the revenue that men's football does. So we're just not going to pay them, or they're going to get paid 10% of what the male athletes get paid.’”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.