Students, athletes or both?

Ed O’Bannon is suing the NCAA because, says the former college basketball star, the governing collegiate athletic body has short-changed athletes who are responsible for colleges and universities earning the kinds of revenue they earn.

O’Bannon’s lawsuit has evolved into a class-action suit involving many former student-athletes — students who happen to be gifted at performing athletic skills that bring lots of money to the schools that enroll them.

Frontline has been all over this story and has posted an online story that tells about O’Bannon’s lawsuit and the ongoing controversy over whether student-athletes should be paid for performing on the field of competition on behalf of their schools.

O’Bannon said that while he was enrolled at UCLA in the mid-1990s, he was an athlete first and a student second. Indeed, his “student” emphasis was a distant second at that, O’Bannon said. Frontline reports: “O’Bannon, the star forward of the UCLA basketball team that won the 1995 national championship, painted a picture of his college experience in which basketball was the No. 1 priority. He told plaintiffs attorney Michael Hausfeld that he spent 40 to 45 hours per week focused on basketball compared to ‘maybe 12 hours a week’ on academics. During his national championship run, he said he took final exams in a hotel ballroom.”

Frontline covered the confluence of big money into big-time college athletics in its landmark March 2011 special. You can watch the special here:

Some folks have maintained that the term “student-athlete” should be reversed, as in O’Bannon’s case, where the young men and women become “athlete-students” who place more of a priority on sports than they do in the classroom.

O’Bannon is seeking to be paid for his efforts on the basketball court, which he said helped fatten UCLA’s pockets.


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