Regardless of Outcome, Athletic Departments Cannot Ignore Spielman v. Ohio State

July 17th, 2017 | by Francis Giknis
Regardless of Outcome, Athletic Departments Cannot Ignore Spielman v. Ohio State


When Chris Spielman, NFL All-Pro and All-American linebacker at Ohio State, filed a federal lawsuit on Friday against his alma mater and sports marketing firm IMG College, he certainly understood the possibility of a ripple effect that might occur on other campuses. To this end, his groundbreaking case, in which he argues both Ohio State and players featured on corporate-sponsored banners hung at Ohio Stadium deserve compensation, must be followed by athletic departments nationwide.

The core of Spielman’s case rests on the decision won by Ed O’Bannon in 2014. As most in the AD community know, that ruling determined the NCAA’s practice of non-payment of athletes violates anti-trust laws, and that “schools should be allowed to offer full cost-of-attendance scholarships to athletes, covering cost-of-living expenses that were not currently part of NCAA scholarships.” However, the scholarship-as-payment method does not apply to graduates, and thus, according to Spielman, Ohio State is in violation. Complicating the matter is the fact that Ohio is not part of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals, and thus the requirement to abide by the O’Bannon ruling might not be upheld. More explanation of the legalistic side of the case can be found in a great piece by Michael McCann at SI.

For many in the AD community, however, the tendency to get bogged-down in the day-to-day workings of a department might preclude them from following this case closely. I would argue this would be a mistake. Despite the legalese and C-SPAN dryness of federal anti-trust suits, most schools are probably using their former players’ likenesses to promote their teams, perhaps in conjunction with corporate sponsorship. Therefore, unlike many issues swirling around the NCAA that schools might dismiss as not applicable, the Spielman ruling could potentially lay the groundwork for future cases.

Athletic departments that fall in the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit have been watching for the implementations of the O’Bannon ruling. While cost-of-living stipends have been distributed on many campuses throughout the country, Spielman’s suit represents the first concrete extension of the theoretical precedent established by the O’Bannon case. For this reason alone, it is worth following by athletic departments nationally, regardless of their location.

The Spielman case is still in its nascent stages having only been filed last week. However, its importance to the college athletic department community demands attention. As news continues to break regarding the suit, it behooves ADs not to let the daily chores of running a department distract from following what might be a nationally significant ruling, regardless of the verdict.

About Francis Giknis
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.

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