Aug 31, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville, left, talks with officials during the first quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The O'Bannon Trial Ruling And Why It Hurts Cincinnati

A monumental ruling in the Ed O’Bannon vs. the NCAA trial will change the face of college athletics beginning in the very near future. The five-year case ended Friday afternoon with the judge ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, allowing football and basketball players to reap the financial benefits of the sales involving their likeness. In essence, college athletes can now receive a portion of the sales from apparel with their pictures or names on them. That extends to video games, posters, playing cards, and anything else where they might be featured.

It’s groundbreaking in this day and age and moves us one step closer to semi-professional sports at the collegiate level.

As you may already know, this is actually the second major announcement to come out of the NCAA this week, the first of which coming on Thursday that the Power 5 schools were given Power of Authority to make their own rules in regards to 11 main areas of autonomy. It allows those 65 programs to begin paying their players stipends and cover their pre-enrollment expenses after signing their letters of intent. And as I mentioned, I didn’t believe it truly affected Cincinnati athletics for the simple fact that UC is financially capable of matching any benefits the schools in the Power 5 conferences provide. Plus they have the AAC’s and Mike Aresco’s blessing to do so.

In particular, while Cincinnati has been mired for years in financial instability, it can afford to provide more benefits to players in the future. The Nippert Stadium renovation could add upwards of $17 million to the budget annually from tickets alone. That doesn’t include the advertisement payments on the banners running the length of the new press box as well as the extra donations made from the owners of loge boxes and luxury seats. Plus a renovated Fifth Third Arena would certainly create more premium seating and attract larger crowds in general.

But this is a game changer.

With Team O’Bannon emerging victorious after five long years, the NCAA must now permit student athletes the receive an annual paycheck of up to $5,000 for their jersey sales, among other licensing rights. This is a huge threat to Cincinnati on the recruiting trail. Sure they were working under the shadow of a non-P5 conference. That was bad enough. But now UC might be at an even larger disadvantage.

Take a recruit, let’s call him Joey, deciding between Cincinnati and Michigan. The high school player is pretty much torn on which school is better for him. On the one hand the Bearcats are offering him early playing time but the Wolverines are boasting about the exposure he would receive in the Big Ten Conference. The kicker is Brady Hoke’s pitch on him receiving a portion of the sales of Michigan jerseys with Joey’s name on it.

The Wolverine head coach is selling the recruit on their massive following for football in comparison to UC, noting that this results in far more sales for his apparel and more cash in his pocket. Hoke tells Joey that at Cincinnati he would earn about $1,000 annually but would hit the $5,000 cap easily in Ann Arbor. The 17-year old, impressionable as he is, eats it up and chooses Michigan.

*Michigan is our example here but the same applies to middle-tier programs like Indiana or Virginia who have much larger followings than UC.

What 17-year old wouldn’t accept that offer?

That’s the problem. Cincinnati can match the benefits Michigan would provide their players like the full cost of attendance but they can’t do a whole heck of a lot if Wolverines fans, which total the entirety of The Great Lake State, simply outnumber Bearcats fans.

Where it might hurt even more are jersey sales for lesser known players. If they could get reap the benefits of licensing revenue this upcoming football season, it’s likely that Gunner Kiel, Braxton Miller, and Jameis Winston would all earn $5,000 since they’re the #1 stars at their respective schools. But what about Mekale McKay or Adrian Witty, guys who are among Cincinnati’s better players but not enough such that their jerseys would fly off the shelves.

In other words, at a place like Michigan they can market 10 starters and their large, passionate fanbase would eat up the propaganda. It would result in strong jersey sales for, say, an offensive guard. Conversely, Cincinnati could realistically utilize the same strategy for probably only Gunner Kiel and Silverberry Mouhon in the upcoming season. Now Brady Hoke is telling recruits 10 of his players earned the $5,000 maximum and Cincinnati only had 2. High school prospects can do the math quickly enough to know their odds of making some extra cash is five times better at Michigan.

So at the end of the day this ruling in the O’Bannon case severely hampers Cincinnati in the near future due in large part to factors out of their control. The Bearcats’ fanbase pales in comparison to many schools in the Big Ten, SEC, and others in the P5. That’s what happens when Cincinnati neglects football for basically three decades while even programs like Illinois were going to BCS bowl games.

It’s not unfathomable to think that UC can shorten the gap with the P5 but only after several more years of consistent success. The Bearcats are basically trying to erase decades of apathy while playing catch up in a lesser conference. It’s possible but they need the UC fanbase and the entire city of Cincinnati to buy in, literally.

That might be the Bearcats’ biggest challenge of all.

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