College Sports Launched into New Era of Uncertainty

Arkansas faces many creative, tough decisions as players set to receive part of each school's revenue
Arkansas Razorbacks defensive back Hudson Clark comes away with an interception at War Memorial Stadium.
Arkansas Razorbacks defensive back Hudson Clark comes away with an interception at War Memorial Stadium. / Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The world of college sports has shifted again, and this time it's even more unclear what the fallout is going to be.

As part of an antitrust lawsuit agreement, the major conferences in the NCAA have not only agreed to send $2.7 billion to be split among more than 10,000 athletes over 10 years, but also to set up a revenue sharing model that will allow schools to pay their players directly.

This means any Razorbacks who were part of the class action lawsuit while also having remaining eligibility will not only get a yearly paycheck for the next decade, but will also get a cut of what Arkansas brings in financially as an athletics program on top of whatever NIL money is already being earned. In other words, being a major sport college athlete is about to become even more lucrative.

This leaves open the need to explore a few questions in the fallout. The first is whether this officially makes athletes employees.

If so, are they traditional employees who need to have insurance and taxes calculated into the equation, or are they going to be considered contract workers? If so, does Sam Pittman have free reign to fire a defensive back in the middle of the season and go out and hire another?

Another question no one has thought about is whether the academic component will even still exist if players receive employee designation. People who work at the University of Arkansas aren't required to go to class and work toward a degree, so it stands to reason athletes might no longer face that requirement either.

Beyond that, employees don't have to go work some place else after four or five years. If Hudson Clark wants to stick around and play football as a University of Arkansas employee for another six or seven years, can he technically do that?

Also, since amateurism is clearly a thing of the past, will it now be possible for Jordan Walsh to sign on with the Razorbacks to continue his professional basketball career should he wear out his welcome in the NBA a few years from now? After all, the one clear message coming out of these antitrust lawsuits is schools can't restrict players from making money, and everyone knows schools will keep pushing the envelope to see what they can get away with.

If someone wants to pony up enough money to bring back John Ridgeway and Cam Little at some point, there's little reason to believe the NCAA would try to stop it. In all the murkiness, the one thing that has been crystal clear is their desire to not get in the way of anything involving players at this point.

The lawsuits have become too numerous and the payouts too steep. It's currently a battle to avoid bankruptcy, so any team that wants to operate like the NFL or NBA version 1.5 can probably pull off just about anything a desperate coach or power hungry booster can dream up.

It won't be from a lack of wanting some form of organization to this mess by schools and most coaches. The problem is lawyer after lawyer has lined up looking to make sure the rules and regulations that limit salaries and player movement in U.S. professional sports leagues don't get set up in whatever is about to overtake the NCAA.

The most immediate question is which sports at each school just went on the chopping block. If players are getting a chunk of the revenue, that means money that went to fund each program just dropped dramatically.

Athletics directors across the country are analyzing budgets and refreshing their knowledge of Title XI requirements as they prepare to make the tough call as to which sports are about to be phased out. Coaches of sports like bowling, lacrosse, Olympic sports, and even soccer are waking up this morning nervous about whether they need to go justify their team's existence to avoid the axe.

Much like with NIL, the schools that get out ahead of this transition and establish themselves as being proactive will be the ones that benefit. Those that sit and wait for direction from the NCAA and conference commissioners will be once again left in the dust floundering around with little hope of catching up to a world that long since left them behind.

It will be one more thing for the college sports purists to get disgruntled about while possibly further dampening their passion for the teams they once so joyously followed. However, there's nothing that can be done.

Change is coming, even if no one knows for sure what form it's going to officially take. Even to the hills of Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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Kent Smith


Kent Smith has been in the world of media and film for nearly 30 years. From Nolan Richardson's final seasons, former Razorback quarterback Clint Stoerner trying to throw to anyone and anything in the blazing heat of Cowboys training camp in Wichita Falls, the first high school and college games after 9/11, to Troy Aikman's retirement and Alex Rodriguez's signing of his quarter billion dollar contract, Smith has been there to report on some of the region's biggest moments.