Nothing is easy in college sports.

And with the Power 5 Conference and the NCAA Board of Governors voting Thursday to accept settlements in three antitrust cases that create a new framework for the game, the moment is layered with both historic change and ambiguity.

More than $2.7 billion in back damages and a new revenue-sharing model that came with the settlement of House v. NCAA and two related antitrust cases mark a distinct pivot for college sports. Professionalism, long a fragile and ephemeral concept in the billion-dollar college sports industry, is officially dead. College sports, long a fractured group of mundanes, banded together in an attempt to save themselves, the five power leagues and the NCAA together in a press release.

It’s a necessary and important week for the business of college athletics, yet not a celebratory week for its leaders. It’s a promising day for future athletes who are being compensated by sharing revenue expected to exceed $20 million per school.

And it’s also a confusing week for campus coaches and leaders, who don’t know what the specific rules of engagement are going forward.

Taking this step shouldn’t require a trip to the chiropractor from a self-congratulatory back pat, because the business of college sports will remain messy. No one should be cheering for paying billions to avoid paying additional billions.

The peace the NCAA and conference leaders hope to buy with their billions in settlement money is seemingly temporary. While the settlement will make it harder for plaintiffs’ attorneys to defend against the threat of billion-dollar damages in the future, athletes will have the option to challenge any restrictions or caps on their payments. While the final yes vote was being collected this week, a separate federal lawsuit in Colorado — Fontenot v. NCAA — continued on its own track, leaving NCAA lawyers open to the possibility of not having time to catch their breath before the next battle over capping athlete compensation.

College sports field and arena games are great, television ratings in college football and the NCAA Tournament for men’s and women’s basketball are all gangbusters. And the NCAA, behind the decisive leadership of President Charlie Baker, appears to have bought itself increased relevance in the coming years by finding enough consensus to avoid another catastrophic financial loss going up against the courts.

But with the reality of Thursday’s final vote, which still needs Judge Claudia Wilken’s approval, college leaders took the worst option at best. Pay the billions now and share the revenue or, lawyers predict, lose multiple lawsuits, declare bankruptcy and start over.

How we got here is simple. As college sports roared from regional passion to national obsession in the 1990s and into this century, NCAA leaders and college presidents clung to a business model that didn’t pay talent. (Coaches, not coincidentally, were compensated at significant levels because players never commanded a salary.)

Just three years ago, the NCAA fought the idea of ​​paying athletes $6,000 in academic-based awards all the way to the Supreme Court. So it’s hard to overstate how drastic the tenor change surrounding college sports is.

Somewhere along the way, as conference television networks were created, commissioner salaries soared to $5 million a year — for former Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, of all people — and television contracts rivaled professional sports’, there was no way direct athletes Cut into. Until this week.

So what does this mean for college sports when revenue sharing comes around as early as the fall of 2025? Where does this take us?

We outline the lingering questions that must be overcome. At this point most decisions are handled by the NCAA, lawyers and commissioners, and there will be a point when the actual participants in the weeds of the game — athletic directors and coaches — will have a voice in the process. Or at least they hope.

In addition to making less financial appeals for plaintiff attorneys to challenge the NCAA in antitrust cases, college leaders also hope they can lay their new settlement at the feet of Congress as a show of good faith. Instead, they will fuel some momentum for a federal law that gives them increased protection from future lawsuits. However, there’s no guarantee the settlement will sway any votes on Capitol Hill, which has so far been deadlocked on NCAA-related legislation and will be consumed by the November election.

Without help from Congress, it will remain a bumpy road for the NCAA to enact the kinds of rules it deems necessary to restore stability to college sports.

How does Title IX factor into the financial calculus? This is the biggest concern of the campus. How will the roster be constructed? Football coaches with 130 players on the team — 85 on scholarship and 45 walk-ons — are wondering if they need to cut a third of their roster with the expected inclusion of roster caps.

“It’s all well-intentioned, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” an industry source told ESPN. “Three big issues are looming that will determine how this goes: the Title IX strategy for implementing revenue sharing, enforcement issues around residual NILs, and how roster caps work.”

If the NIL remains outside the athletic department, as expected, who will police it? The NCAA’s enforcement track record is almost as bad as its legal record. Could there be someone — perhaps a magistrate or a special master appointed by Judge Wilken — who is an arbiter of the interpretation of the settlement?

“You will need a new group to implement NIL,” said another industry source. “Not the NCAA, because the system is going to be completely different. An entity that looks like an NFL or NBA league office, because the things that matter are different from the previous regulatory focus in the NCAA. It was all about unprofessionalism. It’s going to be a lot different now, your There is effectively a salary cap.”

The problem with policing NIL is that distinguishing approval-based from thinly veiled payments for performance remains as subjective a process as it has been for the past three years. It’s unclear which settlement terms will give schools the tools they need to shut down a thriving NIL market beyond their direct control.

Athletic directors are facing the most important decisions of their careers — how do they find the money and slice it? The only certainty is that there will be unhappiness on campus, as the teams’ value to their administrators will now include a dollar sign.

And it will come with many fears, including possible cuts to Olympic sports to help fund the financial bull heifer roster.

Be prepared for a few months of ambiguity, as formal federal approval comes and then the real work of figuring out the details begins.

These questions are being asked by almost everyone in the industry today. Coaches don’t know how to recruit for the 2025 class, because the recruiting rules — exactly how many players can be on the roster — haven’t been determined yet.

Football players will go on official visits this month before their senior season and may not know what to expect. Schools won’t even know basic details like roster spots and available money.

So when history comes with the expected formalization of this settlement, the immediate future of what it will look like remains unclear. Which is fitting, because fixing a decades-old problem is always going to be a slog.

Because it’s true that nothing in college sports is easy.


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