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O'Bannon to Play Much Earlier Role if College Sports Are Doomed

Jon Johnston of SB Nation’s Nebraska blog Corn Nation has this well thought-out view of the major trends that might bring major college football to its knees over the next decade or two. The TL,DR: a move by students away from the traditional four-year residential college experience forced by finances and aided by technological innovation will reduce the demand for and financial support of major college sports.

I might quibble with this bit of Johnston’s timeline:

The NCAA loses Ed O’Bannon lawsuit and is forced to share revenue from television with former and/or current student athletes, resulting in the final nail in the coffin of college football.

The NCAA has a track record of dragging out cases for a very, very long time, but for these trends to manifest themselves before the cases is finished would not be a shift toward MOOCs and online degrees. It would be a 1929-esque collapse of the higher education system. Traditional universities have too many friends and too much political clout for that to happen in the next 5-10 years.

So O’Bannon is less a possible final nail and more an early event that has lasting ripple effects. Should the O’Bannon plaintiffs prevail, and especially if it triggers further lawsuits, it will hamper the ability of schools to respond to the big trends Johnston cited. An athletic department might lose $5 million in institutional support but need to add $10 million in generated revenue to make up for it, splitting it 50/50 with athletes.

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