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Told You So: On the NFL Concussion Settlement

About a year ago, trying to imagine the outcome of increased research into the reality of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, I wrote:

Prophecy is a risky business, but here are three predictions.

No. 1:
The NCAA and the NFL will settle the outstanding lawsuits brought by former players who claim that the collegiate cabal and the professional league endangered players by how they treated or failed to treat concussions. Neither the NCAA nor the NFL wants doctors on the stand to testify about the scientific evidence that the game is simply too dangerous to play safely. They will pay out tens of millions of dollars to keep the hundreds of millions in TV, ticket, and merchandise revenue flowing.

OK, halfway there on this first prophecy.

One question which yesterday’s $765 million settlement raises: Will the NCAA follow suit, and shell out huge dollars to keep their own money machine rolling along?

Somehow, I doubt it. The NCAA, unlike the NFL, theoretically has to deal with being composed of, you know, educational institutions. Institutions whose presidents won’t want to sign off on that kind of payment just to maintain the vast flow of cash . [Wait for laughter to die down.] OK, I can see the NCAA taking a deep breath, and signing a big check.

I can also see such a settlement leading to the predicted split of the NCAA football world into the truly elite, and the rest of the wannabes. This split, along with the other lawsuits pending from players regarding rights to their images, and seemingly endless press coverage regarding NCAA legal highhandedness (in serious places like the New York Times Op Ed pages, especially from Joe Nocera) could lead to fundamental reform.

The big money boys—football and men’s basketball—will spin off into their own ESPN-supported world, and the rest of college athletics will return to something closer to the amateur ideals that the NCAA, with its billion-dollar TV deals and multi-millionaire coaches, have so clearly perverted.

I don’t know if this prediction will come true, but I have 756 million more reasons to think it might than I did a day ago.

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