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A lawsuit settlement will change college athletics. Perhaps it’s time for UM to abandon sports | Opinion

The University of Miami and many other U.S. higher education institutions suddenly had to prepare last month to engage in a questionable new field of activity: managing teams in professional sports leagues.

That’s the potential impact of a pending $2.8 billion settlement related to antitrust lawsuits brought by former players against the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). Athletes complained that they should be paid in exchange for schools using their names, images and likenesses (NIL).

After the NCAA relaxed three years ago prohibiting college athletes from profiting from their fame, many have already received thousands of NIL dollars for things like endorsements and personal appearances. What’s more, starting in 2025, college athletes will also be eligible to receive compensation as schools implement a revenue-sharing plan that could cost them more than $20 million a year.

If athletes become employees, schools will have to navigate a maze of federal and state labor laws. Among other potential impacts: As workers, athletes would likely have the right to organize into unions, bargain collectively and even strike.

The NCAA is aware of this disturbing scenario. President Charlies Baker, speaking Monday in Las Vegas, told ESPN: “If the court blesses (the pending settlement), it puts us in a position where we can go to Congress and say, ‘One of the three branches of the federal government has blessed this as a model for creating wages without causing employment.”

Even if Congress actually follows the NCAA’s wishes, the question for schools like the University of Miami is whether this new solution is worth the effort and expense. It’s true, there was a time when UM football competed for championships and occasionally filled the rusty old Orange Bowl when publicity helped generate applications for admission, which was a necessity for a private university. The more applications a university receives, the more selective it can be, which will increase its rankings and prestige.

Fortunately, UM no longer needs athletics to encourage enrollment. The school has transformed from a school once disparagingly called “Suntan U” to a school renowned for academic excellence and research. Indeed, in May 2023, UM was asked to join the invitation-only Association of American Universities, an organization of the nation’s leading research universities.

What would happen if UM decided to withdraw from intercollegiate athletics because of the enormous amounts of television money going to schools in major conferences other than the Atlantic Coast Conference, where UM is at a huge financial disadvantage? How will UM compete for athletes if players are incentivized to sell their services to the highest bidder? How will UM deal with the hyperinflation of salaries of head coaches and their numerous assistants?

There are precedents for people abandoning sports. The University of Chicago was a founding member of the Big Ten Conference in 1896, but abandoned football in 1939 and withdrew from the Big Ten six years later. Then there’s UM itself. In 1971, he left men’s basketball and managed without it for 14 years.

For some universities, cutting sports would mean the proverbial white elephant: huge stadiums on campus. No POI. The on-campus basketball facility can be used for other purposes.

Now, as intercollegiate athletics become professional, more expensive and increasingly susceptible to the pernicious influence of sports gambling, it would undoubtedly be a plus for UM if the money that alumni and supporters currently contribute to UM’s athletic programs could be redirected to further improvements primary mission of the school: education.

Robert F. Sanchez of Tallahassee is a former member of the Miami Herald editorial board. He writes for the Herald’s conservative “Right to the Point” newsletter. It’s every week and it’s free. To subscribe, go to miamiherald.com/righttothepoint.

Sanchez