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NCAA and 5 conferences agree to settle antitrust suits brought by ex-college athletes

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

College athletics are about to change.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the NCAA, agreed to settle a big lawsuit. So did the nation's five biggest athletic conferences. They will pay nearly $2.8 billion to settle antitrust suits by former student athletes. If the agreement goes through, schools can pay their athletes directly.

INSKEEP: Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post has been covering this story, and he joins us very, very, very, very early. Good morning, sir.

JESSE DOUGHERTY: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Who gets the $2.8 billion?

DOUGHERTY: Two-point-eight billion dollars is mostly going to past athletes, and among that group, it's mostly going to power conference football and men's basketball players. That's the biggest class there. They sued, basically, over the use of their name, image and likeness in past television broadcasts and for not being compensated for that, so the damages are going back their way for being on TV and playing their sports over the years.

INSKEEP: OK. So you remind us about the name, image and likeness rules, which have changed over the last several years. Now we have this finding, as part of this lawsuit, that colleges can just pay athletes. How does this transform college sports?

DOUGHERTY: Yeah. So now schools will pay athletes directly, which is a seismic shift in this landscape when you consider that for as long as the NCAA has been around, one of its sole purposes has been to make sure athletes do not get paid by the schools. How it actually changes the games in practice when you're actually between the lines on the quarter field, I'm not sure it will too much, but it will definitely change how athletic departments have to budget, how schools have to budget, how athletes get paid and what kind of money they'll make on campus. So the changes are far-reaching, and we're still learning how it's going to look. And it remains to be seen exactly how that will scale, but it certainly changes the foundation of this whole thing.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I mean, one thing I'm curious about is the amount of money we're talking about. I grant that a lot of money is made by college sports. I'm interested in how this will translate to athletes. Will they get paid millions of dollars, as they would in pro leagues, or will it be more of a nominal payment? I mean, what's the sense?

DOUGHERTY: I would think of it more as a salary that's not, sort of, in those high, high professional numbers, so basically, there's going to be a capped amount of revenue-sharing per school. Right now, it seems like that's going to be around the $20 million range per year, but that's not just for a football roster. That's for a lot of athletes on campus. So for athletes to make in those six, seven figures - like the big money that we're seeing right now, like, with the NIL payments - that's going to take major endorsement deals - major deals with boosters, potentially. This revenue-sharing money will more just equalize the earnings across rosters, and in some cases, across athletics departments, depending on how it's implemented by schools.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, this raises a question for me. What happens with the lacrosse team or some team that doesn't have a lot of revenue coming in, or what happens with the athletes at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where I went to college, and it's not one of the big, big programs?

DOUGHERTY: It's a great question, yeah. For the lacrosse team, schools will decide how they actually balance their budgets. We don't know, 'cause it's not actually just going to be standard across the board, and then for the smaller schools, this revenue-sharing model will be optional. At the big schools, schools will opt into it 'cause it will be required to remain competitive, but at the smaller, lower-revenue levels, you'll see a lot of conferences in schools saying, you know, we're not going to do this, and we're not going to take part in this revenue-sharing model.

INSKEEP: Jesse Dougherty, The Washington Post. All very clear; thank you very much.

DOUGHERTY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.