Restricted earnings coaches get their due in Monday jury ruling

The NCAA has a $1.75 billion college hoops contract with CBS. It makes millions from a student work force that doesn’t see any of it (at least legally).
But until this week, the governing body of college athletics allowed a maximum salary of $16,000 per year for Gophers men’s basketball assistant Bill Brown and his 1,900 fellow restricted-earnings coaches.
A federal jury on Monday ruled the NCAA violated antitrust laws and must pay close to $67 million in damages for restricting those coaches’ salaries since 1991.
The NCAA is in the process of spin-doctoring and perhaps planning an appeal of the largest penalty ever imposed on it.
Although Brown said the coaches who led the fight weren’t in it for the money — “I don’t know how or if I’ll get reimbursed,” he said — they deserve every penny they ultimately get.
When it created the position seven years ago, the NCAA saw a way to save money. Although it did open up jobs for eager young coaches, it did so at slave wages and eventually caused more harm than good.
Brown and his wife Susan have two children. They’ve been fortunate, he said, to have been able to stick out his four years as a Gophers assistant.
“There have been a lot of people hurt by this position,” Brown said. “A few years back, a lot of coaches had to get out of the profession because they couldn’t financially survive. They had to change career paths.”
In addition, Brown faced the possibility of having to move his family, as until this week the NCAA also limited the number of years a coach could serve in the restricted earnings capacity to four.
In essence, the position offered very little job security and low pay. Still, hungry coaches had no choice but to put in the time.
“The way I looked at it, and the way a lot of coaches looked at it, it wasn’t an entry-level position, it was just an opportunity,” the 29-year-old Brown said. “None of us liked the restricted salary or number of years you could be in the position. But when you have a lifelong dream and have an opportunity to get involved at such an early age, you have to take it.”
The position, however, became a struggle between a labor of love and slave labor for some coaches. A group of assistants decided to push the antitrust case forward four years ago.
Once the legal wheels started moving, the NCAA again had a chance to amend itself. Andy Greer, one of the coaches who initiated the case, said he never wanted to see it reach the point of trial.
Several higher-ups are now saying the same thing, suggesting the NCAA should have settled out of court. Instead, the behemoth organization continued to swallow the little guys.
Now the hand that didn’t feed very well has been bitten.
“As a whole for every coach across the country, it was a big day,” Brown said. “The big thing was that the coaches made a stand together and came together as a unit. That was more important than winning the money because at one point coaches came to the conclusion that they lost a little bit of voice.”
To hear it from the NCAA, that voice will come at the expense of the innocent. Elsa Cole, a lawyer for the NCAA, said the monetary penalty will have a “negative impact on the services and opportunities we can offer our student-athletes.”
Missouri Valley Conference associate commissioner Patty Viverito and Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick also acknowledged it would affect the way they do business.
Two things offset these concerns. First, the coaches’ rights were violated at the benefit of some of these institutions, making restitution necessary. Second, the lawsuit obviously wasn’t intended to hurt athletes.
To prevent it from happening, Brown has a suggestion.
“Depending on what happens, if we should end up getting into a position where we receive money, the NCAA should have the ability to arrange their resources so it doesn’t affect the student-athletes,” he said. “There are a lot of ways to redefine how money is allotted.”
Such as?
“What they were trying to do with us was cut budgets back — maybe they can do it themselves in regard to some things they do differently.”
Cut bureaucracy instead of opportunities for young coaches and players? Nah, it’ll never work.
— Michael Rand is the sports editor at The Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]