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Jun 25, 2014 10:13 AM EDT

O'Bannon vs NCAA Trial: C-USA Commissioner Afraid Student-Athlete Compensation Would Sink Smaller Programs


Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky testified in the O'Bannon vs. NCAA trial he was afraid of what might happen if college athletes were to be paid.

According to USA Today, Banowsky appeared as an NCAA witness in the 11th day of the trial that could change the landscape of collegiate athletics. Ed O'Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, and 19 other plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA trying to force them to compensate student-athletes for use of their name, image and likeness (NIL).

Perhaps speaking for conferences outside Division I's "power five," Banowsky said he was concerned C-USA schools may have to switch leagues or drop football and basketball. As it stands, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC make a lot more money than the rest of the Division I conferences.

While "power five" schools may get to share hundreds of millions of dollars in TV revenue, Banowsky said he has some athletic departments that are not even self-sufficient. Those schools could not be competitive in offering compensation to recruits, let alone afford to pay student-athletes.

"My sense is that some schools will probably try to figure out how to (make it work)," Banowsky said on the stand Monday. "Other schools will probably say we're not going to pay licensing fees because we don't have the resources. Some may... decide to do something radical, like discontinuing sponsoring football. They're looking at a tight budget as is."

Under cross-examination, the plaintiffs' legal team brought forward data showing a sizeable increase in the C-USA's revenue, USA Today reported. According to the data, the conference made $30 million in the 2002-2003 academic year and $59 million in 2012-2013.

As an example of how that affects individual programs in the C-USA, the plaintiffs turned to data from the U.S. Education Department to illustrate revenue increases. East Carolina's men's basketball team made $642,000 in 2000 and then $3 million 12 years later. The Rice football team made about $2.2 million in 2002 and then $40 million some 10 years later.

Banowsky acknowledged that his salary has increased from $384,000 to $500,000 since his first year as commissioner. The C-USA is also in the midst of a six-year TV contract with FOX and CBS that pays the conference $84 million.

The commissioner testified that with rising revenue comes more financial responsibility and additional expenses, USA Today reported.

"There is more revenue flowing into the system than ever," Banowsky said on the stand. "But we've seen growth in expenses. As revenues are flowing in, it's just plowed back into the athletics."

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