But while amateurism—and the free labor it provides—may be necessary to the preservation of the NCAA, and perhaps to the profit margins of various interested corporations and educational institutions, what if it doesn’t benefit the athletes? “Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes,” Sonny Vaccaro says. “Ninety percent African Americans.” The NCAA made its money off those kids, and so did he.
They were not all bad people, the NCAA officials, but they were blind, Vaccaro believes. I’m probably closer to the kids than anyone else, and I’m 71 years old.” Vaccaro is officially an unpaid consultant to the plaintiffs in O’Bannon v. He connected Ed O’Bannon with the attorneys who now represent him, and he talked to some of the additional co-plaintiffs who have joined the suit, among them Oscar Robertson, a basketball Hall of Famer who was incensed that the NCAA was still selling his image on playing cards 50 years after he left the University of Cincinnati.
The court soon would qualify his clients as a class. ” The work will be hard, but Hausfeld said he will win in the courts, unless the NCAA folds first. Under the law, it’s up to them [the defendants] to give a pro-competitive justification. End of story.” Ithird Knight Commission, complementing a previous commission’s recommendation for published reports on academic progress, called for the finances of college sports to be made transparent and public—television contracts, conference budgets, shoe deals, coaches’ salaries, stadium bonds, everything.
“Their organization is a fraud.” Vaccaro retired from Reebok in 2007 to make a clean break for a crusade. Jon King, an antitrust lawyer at Hausfeld LLP in San Francisco, told me that Vaccaro “opened our eyes to massive revenue streams hidden in college sports.” King and his colleagues have drawn on Vaccaro’s vast knowledge of athletic-department finances, which include off-budget accounts for shoe contracts.
“The kids and their parents gave me a good life,” he says in his peppery staccato. Sonny Vaccaro and his wife, Pam, “had a mountain of documents,” he said.
“I want to give something back.” Call it redemption, he told me. The outcome of the 1984 Regents decision validated an antitrust approach for O’Bannon, King argues, as well as for Joseph Agnew in his continuing case against the one-year scholarship rule.
Lawyers for Sam Keller—a former quarterback for the University of Nebraska who is featured in video games—are pursuing a parallel “right of publicity” track based on the First Amendment.