With a federal judge still deciding whether or not Ed O'Bannon's case against the NCAA will be certified as a class-action suit, three prominent former Georgia players were asked to give their take Monday afternoon.
Matt Stinchcomb, Jon Stinchcomb and David Greene were in town to promote next month's Countdown to Kickoff. But with the O'Bannon antitrust suit, which if successful, would cause the NCAA's stance on amateurism to come crumbling down, the trio was asked to give their take on what would be a landmark ruling that could shake collegiate athletics forever.
The gist of O'Bannon's suit contends that the NCAA and co-defendants Collegiate Licensing Company and EA Sports violated antitrust laws by conspiring to set a zero price for use of athletes' likeness in products. O'Bannon's suit also charges that athletes are essentially forced to sign a waiver at the start of their career releasing their likeness rights.
Matt Stinchcomb wasn't shy when asked if he had an opinion.
"If unbeknownst to the individual that they're creating value as an individual and not as a member of a team, then I think there's merit to some type of request on that individual's part if these players feel as if their images and likenesses have been used. If they didn't realize any type of compensation, value from having had their likeness used, then that needs to be addressed in some capacity," Stinchcomb said. "We'll find out soon enough that's going to involve just former players, current players are both, I think a ruling was passed down last week to continue that case."
Stinchcomb added when he signed his scholarship with the Bulldogs, such thoughts never crossed his mind.
"I know this, when I signed a college scholarship, it was to play football at a university, and I was going to be afforded room and board, and the cost of tuition and books. That's exactly what I got," he said.
"What I think we're seeing now is it's going beyond some of that. Now there might be language in the scholarship or the letter-of-intent that says they can do that. But I don't think that was implied in the contract, and I don't know that any 18-year-old, even after having it explained to them, would fully grasp what they're warranting and granting to the NCAA to use their likeness as individuals, if in fact that's what's going on."
Greene has similar feelings.
While he played at Georgia, Green's No. 14 jersey was a popular seller in stores throughout the Peach State, much like the No. 11 of current quarterback Aaron Murray is popular today.
Greene never received any compensation and Murray won't either, although if O'Bannon's suit is successful, that could change for future players.
"I think my opinion is more geared toward Matt's but it's such a gray area when you talk about college athletics because you're talking about amateur sports but there's a huge, billion dollar business around it as well, so there's a lot of gray area as far as what's allowed and what's not," Greene said. "You could consider college sports as amateur, which it is, guys aren't getting paid to play but there's a big business around it. There's a lot of pressure around it too. You can't tell me there isn't a lot of pressure on these kids, even though they're not being paid to play. There's a lot of pressure on these kids to perform."
But Greene warns if the floodgates of compensation are opened completely, that wouldn't necessarily be a good idea, either.
"Do I think kids should get paid while they're playing? I don't know the answer. I don't think it's good for guys to be driving around here in Bentleys and that kind of thing, that's for the NFL. But like Matt said, if they're singling out guys that the university's making money off of, it's something to consider," Greene said. "You look at NCAA Football, the characters of the guys, the touchdowns, they're similar to the actual player. They want you to single out just the university and say 'it's just about Georgia,' but whether the University is getting compensated is sometimes directly off the player. Look at how many people are walking around with 11 jerseys now; it's something to consider. Like I said, I don't have the answer for the whole thing but as far as what side of the argument I fall on, I think I fall on that side."
Jon Stinchcomb played eight years for New Orleans.
During his career at Georgia, the former first-round pick enjoyed All-American status before winning a Super Bowl ring with the Saints.
Like his brother and former teammate, the former offensive tackle believes O'Bannon's suit has merit, although he understands why fans could see players as being greedy for wanting a bigger slice of the pie.
"It's tricky because from a fan's perspective. It's the balance of "Oh, all these players are greedy, they see an opportunity when they should appreciate the opportunity to represent your school and enjoy the game at the collegiate level,' and we do," he said. "That's the awesome side and I don't think any player would leverage that, so you have to separate the two. Is it greed or being taken advantage of on an individual level?"
But the former Bulldogs also acknowledge the NCAA has a legitimate way to dispute what the O'Bannon suit claims.
"I will say this, if you're not taking advantage of the academic opportunity that's afforded you as a college athlete, then in a lot of ways, when they say they're playing for free, you are, because the way you're being compensated is this opportunity to get a college education," Matt Stinchcomb said.
"So, if you're playing football and you're out here complaining that you're playing for free, and not taking advantage of the academics and the diploma, then yeah in a lot of ways you're playing for free and that's your own choice.
"But where I think that scenario loses traction, and I guess the pushback I would have at the NCAA level, is they've gone above beyond this implied contract that says you play ball. They say they will give you the education. Except now, if you play ball, it's we'll pay for your room and board, all the composite of the comprised costs. But by the way, over here on the side, we'll have a contract with this licensing company for them to sell the rights to sell your jersey, and we've also got a contract with video game makers. We're going to use your likeness and we're going to capture that value and none of it will be realized for you as an individual."