Larry King: ‘I’ve Never Understood Why College Athletes Aren’t Paid’

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(Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Last week, the legendary Larry King interviewed Ed O’Bannon – as well as O’Bannon’s lawyer, Micahel Hausfeld – to discuss O’Bannon’s ongoing lawsuit against the NCAA. O’Bannon contends that the NCAA should not have control of the likenesses of college athletes.

The case is largely seen as a referendum on the true amateurism – or lack thereof – of college athletics.

“All my adult years, I’ve never understood why college athletes weren’t paid beyond the scholarship and the stipend they get every month,” King said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I think it’s $500 or $600. With what they bring to universities and the major sports is unquestionably not returned in kindness, so it doesn’t seem fair to me.

“I liked Ed O’Bannon and his lawyer very much. I think they made a compelling case. O’Bannon sees himself one day on a video game – he sees his number, his uniform – and he doesn’t get any money for it. And it just seemed unfair. It seemed unfair to me. I thought he was a very impressive guest. His lawyer was right on top of the facts.”

The NCAA had better get ready.

“The NCAA has been fighting this for six years trying not to go to trial,” King said. “They will go to trial on June 9 in Oakland in federal court there. They’re going to have an impressive list of athletes (there testifying) – Bill Russell is the first witness for Mr. O’Bannon and his side of the case.”

King believes the NCAA is going to be in for quite a battle and will have a tough time winning.

“I think the NCAA argument is weak on the basis of fairness,” he said. “The student gets the scholarship, (but) they can drop you after a year. They can take that scholarship away at any time. It’s not a four-year guarantee. The odds are stacked the other way.

“(O’Bannon) might win in Oakland. He could very well win at the Supreme Court. The other side does not have a great case.”

Gottlieb sides with the NCAA, although he does not believe its arguments are all that impressive. In Gottlieb’s mind, the benefits of being a student-athlete are vast. First, you receive admission into a school that you likely wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise. It’s free, you get priority enrollment and you get access to the best tutors and the best facilities. You are a member of a unique and specific high-profile club, and, as soon as you graduate, you will get a job because of that membership – which far outweighs any monetary payment you would receive in a four-year period.

“A very good point,” King said. “Now, the other side would say, how much for example did Johnny football bring to Texas A&M? Who did better by that deal?”

“Johnny Football helped (bring in money), but for the rest of his life, he’s Johnny Football,” Gottlieb said. “He’s a Heisman trophy winner, he’ll be doing car commercials and voiceovers for years to come, whether he’s an NFL star or flames out.”

It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds in the coming months, but King sees O’Bannon as a potentially revolutionary figure.

“I think O’Bannon may turn out to be a Curt Flood,” King said.

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