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Emmert: Court Ruling Reinforces NCAA Athletes Not Employees

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — NCAA President Mark Emmert says a judge’s recent ruling in a federal antitrust lawsuit again reinforced that college athletes should be treated as students not employees.

Emmert spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the site of the men’s basketball Final Four, making his first public comments since last month’s decision in the so-called Alston.

Judge Claudia Wilken ruled the NCAA did violate antitrust laws and cannot prohibit schools from providing more benefits to athletes as long as they are tethered to education.

“There were also components of that ruling that reinforced what a number of judges and administrative court proceedings have reinforced and that is that college sports is about student-athletes playing student-athletes not employees playing employees,” Emmert said. “And the fact that, once again, another federal decision has come down reinforcing the fundamentals of what college sport is about, we’re very pleased with that. And the way that she wrote what could and could not be prohibited by the NCAA is not in any way fundamentally inconsistent with what we’ve been doing for about a decade now.”

In recent years, NCAA member schools have passed legislation permitting an increase in the value of an athletic scholarship by as much as several thousand dollars to include the federal cost of attendance. Also, schools are now allowed to provide athletes with unlimited meals and guaranteed four-year scholarships.

The plaintiffs argued in the Alston case that implementation of cost-of-attendance stipends and other rewards to players for participation such as bowl gifts and championship rings prove paying athletes even more would not hurt college sports.

Plaintiffs in the Alston case had sought to have all NCAA rules capping compensation struck down. They wanted conferences to set standards for compensation in the hope of creating a market in which schools compete for talent at the highest levels of football and men’s and women’s basketball.

Even though Wilken’s ruling fell well short of that, plaintiffs’ attorneys have celebrated it. They called it another step toward unraveling the NCAA’s definition of amateurism, which they consider unjust and arbitrary. In 2014, Wilken ruled against the NCAA in an antitrust lawsuit brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon. He claimed the NCAA and conferences inappropriately used the names, images and likenesses of college athletes without compensation.

Much like the Alston case, the NCAA came away from O’Bannon with its model of amateurism basically intact.

And as it did in O’Bannon, the NCAA is appealing Wilken’s latest ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court.

“We don’t like the notion that we’re in violation of antitrust laws,” Emmert said.

Emmert added the association does not believe the courts should decide what qualifies as a benefit tethered to education.

“We just find that an unworkable proposal that anytime you want to have a discussion over whether or not something is or isn’t tethered education we have to go back to a judge and have that debate and discussion. That just seems inherently inappropriate and not an appropriate role for the judiciary, but one that does fit the role of the NCAA,” Emmert said.

Wilken cited things such as computers, scientific equipment and musical instrument as benefits tethered to education. Emmert said it is already within NCAA rules for schools to provide the “vast majority” of the items to college athletes.

“We provide around $100 million a year to schools to support student-athletes through student-support fund programs for precisely that purpose,” he said.

Wilken also cited post-graduate scholarships as benefits that should be permissible.

As with the introduction of any new benefit, there is concern among NCAA membership for potential corruption.

“You know we have schools competing now on who can do the best gold-plated locker room? You know, who can do the best recreational facilities?” Emmert said. “Having them compete over who can provide the best educational experience … is an inherently good thing, not a bad thing from my point of view.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.