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“Their organization is a fraud.” Vaccaro retired from Reebok in 2007 to make a clean break for a crusade. Jon King, an antitrust lawyer at Hausfeld LLP in San Francisco, told me that Vaccaro “opened our eyes to massive revenue streams hidden in college sports.” King and his colleagues have drawn on Vaccaro’s vast knowledge of athletic-department finances, which include off-budget accounts for shoe contracts.“The kids and their parents gave me a good life,” he says in his peppery staccato. Sonny Vaccaro and his wife, Pam, “had a mountain of documents,” he said.Still other lawyers could revive Rick Johnson’s case against NCAA bylaws on a larger scale, and King thinks claims for the rights of college players may be viable also under laws pertaining to contracts, employment, and civil rights. “The public will see for the first time how all the money is distributed.” Vaccaro has been traveling the after-dinner circuit, proselytizing against what he sees as the NCAA’s exploitation of young athletes.Vaccaro had sought a law firm for O’Bannon with pockets deep enough to withstand an expensive war of attrition, fearing that NCAA officials would fight discovery to the end. Late in 2008, someone who heard his stump speech at Howard University mentioned it to Michael Hausfeld, a prominent antitrust and human-rights lawyer, whose firm had won suits against Exxon for Native Alaskans and against Union Bank of Switzerland for Holocaust victims’ families.
Everything stands on the implicit presumption that preserving amateurism is necessary for the well-being of college athletes.
Not all the members could hide their scorn for the “sneaker pimp” of schoolyard hustle, who boasted of writing checks for millions to everybody in higher education. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them.
“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry? You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir,” Vaccaro added with irrepressible good cheer, “but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. I can only offer it.” William Friday, a former president of North Carolina’s university system, still winces at the memory.
But what Vaccaro said in 2001 was true then, and it’s true now: corporations offer money so they can profit from the glory of college athletes, and the universities grab it.
In 2010, despite the faltering economy, a single college athletic league, the football-crazed Southeastern Conference (SEC), became the first to crack the billion-dollar barrier in athletic receipts. That money comes from a combination of ticket sales, concession sales, merchandise, licensing fees, and other sources—but the great bulk of it comes from television contracts.