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Yet, in order to be eligible to play, college athletes have to waive their rights to proceeds from any sales based on their athletic performance. In signing the statement, the athletes attest that they have amateur status, that their stated SAT scores are valid, that they are willing to disclose any educational documents requested, and so forth. “You can’t get to the bottom of our case without exposing the hypocrisy of amateurism, and Walter Byers says it eloquently.” An assistant brought in Byers’s memoir.

Already, Hausfeld said, the defendants in the Ed O’Bannon case have said in court filings that college athletes thereby transferred their promotional rights forever. It looked garish on the shiny table because dozens of pink Post-its protruded from the text.

The debates and commissions about reforming college sports nibble around the edges—trying to reduce corruption, to prevent the “contamination” of athletes by lucre, and to maintain at least a pretense of concern for academic integrity.

Everything stands on the implicit presumption that preserving amateurism is necessary for the well-being of college athletes.

These were eminent reformers—among them the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, two former heads of the U. Olympic Committee, and several university presidents and chancellors.

The Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that takes an interest in college athletics as part of its concern with civic life, had tasked them with saving college sports from runaway commercialism as embodied by the likes of Vaccaro, who, since signing his pioneering shoe contract with Michael Jordan in 1984, had built sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas, and Reebok.

They were not all bad people, the NCAA officials, but they were blind, Vaccaro believes. I’m probably closer to the kids than anyone else, and I’m 71 years old.” Vaccaro is officially an unpaid consultant to the plaintiffs in O’Bannon v. He connected Ed O’Bannon with the attorneys who now represent him, and he talked to some of the additional co-plaintiffs who have joined the suit, among them Oscar Robertson, a basketball Hall of Famer who was incensed that the NCAA was still selling his image on playing cards 50 years after he left the University of Cincinnati.Sonny Vaccaro told a closed hearing at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D. “We want to put our materials on the bodies of your athletes, and the best way to do that is buy your school.Or buy your coach.” Vaccaro’s audience, the members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, bristled.“Their organization is a fraud.” Vaccaro retired from Reebok in 2007 to make a clean break for a crusade. Jon King, an antitrust lawyer at Hausfeld LLP in San Francisco, told me that Vaccaro “opened our eyes to massive revenue streams hidden in college sports.” King and his colleagues have drawn on Vaccaro’s vast knowledge of athletic-department finances, which include off-budget accounts for shoe contracts.“The kids and their parents gave me a good life,” he says in his peppery staccato. Sonny Vaccaro and his wife, Pam, “had a mountain of documents,” he said.

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