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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, September 30, 2023
Photo of Aleem Ford dribbling across half court in a home game versus Michigan.

Michigan forward Isaiah Livers guards Wisconsin's Aleem Ford at the Kohl Center. Livers is dealing with a foot injury, but he has been extremely vocal in the fight for NIL rights.

#NotNCAAProperty: How three Big Ten basketball players took on the NCAA

The week after Selection Sunday and before the beginning of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is always a frenzied week in sports. Fans can’t get enough insights on their brackets as they furiously try to pick the right upsets. Everyone from high school students to CEOs try to figure out how they’re going to get out of work to watch the first round. Frankly, it’s one of the most beautiful sights in sports. Diehard college basketball fans work so hard to score the perfect bracket only to lose to their stoner roommate who picked the biggest upset of the year because he thought Oral Roberts sounded funny. 

And it’s a great week for the NCAA, too. The tournament makes them billions upon billions of dollars. They’ve got as many as four games on at once, and a lot of us fans have all of them on. Personally, I had three different screens with different basketball games on at once. It was perfect. Blissful.

Hey, aren’t we forgetting someone?

Oh yeah. The players. 

So the issue with the NCAA Tournament is that you can’t really have a tournament without players, but the NCAA likes to pretend like they can. Which you can’t. It’s impossible. But that doesn’t matter to Mark Emmert and the NCAA, who are too busy lighting their cigars with hundred-dollar bills to care. 

It seems like every year before the tournament in recent memory has had some discussions about the rights of college players, but none have been like this year. 

Usually it’s a bunch of think-pieces from magazines about how unethical the NCAA is as an organization. They’re right, by the way, but that moral outrage usually doesn’t reach the general college-basketball watching population.

This year, it was impossible to ignore. 

March 17 was the day before the tournament technically started with the First Four games. With fans undoubtedly scouring Twitter for last-minute college hoops takes, three of the Big Ten’s most visible players started a movement. 

University of Iowa senior Jordan Bohannon, Michigan senior Isaiah Livers and Rutgers senior Geo Baker were three of the first ones to post the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty. 

The NCAA OWNS my name image and likeness,” tweeted Baker. “Someone on music scholarship can profit from an album. Someone on academic scholarship can have a tutor service. For ppl who say ‘an athletic scholarship is enough.’ Anything less than equal rights is never enough. I am #NotNCAAProperty”

Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) bills are going through state legislatures at rates never before seen. According to the University of Cincinnati Law Review, Colorado, California, and Florida have all passed bills calling for changes to collegiate athletic compensation. Some of the state laws could be enforced as early as this July. 33 more states have similar bills in the works. Even the United States Senate has seen NIL bills introduced. 

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As a quick aside, it’s worth noting that one of the biggest opponents of NIL rights resides right here in Madison. Chancellor Rebecca Blank testified before Congress on behalf of the NCAA on Sept. 15, 2020, where she advocated against athletes’ rights due to the amount of money the schools offer in scholarships each year.  Blank said that if colleges ran athletics the same way that private companies like the NFL ran their leagues, then all of the sports that didn’t generate revenue would be shut down. 

Baker replied to a Twitter user with a similar thought process that this logic is faulty. 

“This idea is flawed because we earned our scholarship through years of hard work. Just how one earns an academic scholarship,” said Baker. “The difference is our name, which is our birth right,  gets taken away when we enter college and theirs does not.”

Blank did testify that NIL rules needed to be changed, but those changes should be dictated by the NCAA. Given the long, long history of the NCAA denying athletes rights, it’s hard for athletes to trust the multi-billion dollar organization to do the right thing for once.

Athletes from institutions all over the country have used the #NotNCAAProperty hashtag since Livers, Bohannon, and Baker started it. A number of Baker’s teammates, including Ron Harper, Jr. and star center Myles Johnson, took to Twitter to support the movement. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell of Maryland did as well

One of the most interesting cases, in this writer’s opinion, is that of Alabama point guard Jahvon Quinerly. This requires a bit of background, so bear with me here.

Before he went to college, Quinerly was a co-founder of one of the biggest movements in recent basketball history: JellyFam. It was a resurgence of New York basketball, a return to form for the Mecca of hoops. The members of JellyFam did the impossible: they made lay-ups cooler than dunks. There were countless articles written about them as they entered college hoops. Founder Isaiah Washington, who was New York’s 2017 Mr. Basketball and holds the JellyFam trademark, currently plays at Long Beach State after stints at Minnesota and Iona. 

Quinerly is the only one of the founding members who has seen real success in college basketball, tallying a double-double against Maryland in the Round of 32. Washington has bounced around colleges, co-founder Sid Wilson has seen little success at Connecticut and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, and co-founder Ja’Quaye James has bounced around JUCO teams. 

JellyFam could have been a way to feed their families for years. But the NCAA kept that from happening.

“Though I am completely focused on competing with my teammates going forward, I must say since it is a topic of discussion, the NCAA has not allowed me or my brothers to profit off of our GLOBAL ‘JellyFam’ movement that took social media by storm a few years ago,” Quinerly wrote in a statement. “This is a movement that has the potential to not only put ourselves in better positions financially but our families as well. Meanwhile, people were able to make their own profits off our movement since we could do nothing with it in order to keep our NCAA eligibility alive.”

Four players built one of the most iconic basketball movements of the decade and were not allowed to profit off of it because they feared for their professional careers. That’s more than unethical. More than messed up. That’s bullshit. 

The #NotNCAAProperty movement has four goals: a change to the NCAA’s NIL rules by July 1, a meeting with NCAA President Mark Emmert, meetings with state and federal lawmakers, and for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of the plaintiffs in Alston vs. NCAA, which asks whether the NCAA is violating antitrust laws. 

Emmert turned down a meeting with the leaders of the movement at their requested time, saying he refuses to meet with them before the NCAA tournament is over. 

The leaders of the movement have done what they can so far. They’ve made their demands clear, used what leverage they have, started a nationwide movement, and even brought their hashtag to national television. But there’s a lot more to come. 

Livers told The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach that a protest in the form of a delay could happen in the later rounds of the tournament when there’s less teams and players to coordinate. NBA players took a similar path in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. last June. The protest helped make the NBA give more money to social justice causes. 

Bohannon cited the fact that the coalition was made up of guys who were in the tournament as a benefit to them, but that’s no longer true since Bohannon’s Hawkeyes and Baker’s Scarlet Knights were ousted. 

Even with only the injured Livers left in Indianapolis, it’s likely that the damage has already been done for the NCAA. This is the biggest movement towards collegiate athlete rights since the inception of college sports. And in a strange twist of fate, it never could have happened if the NCAA didn’t treat their players like essential workers, quarantining them day in and day out for the sake of their precious tournament. 

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