Drexel professor testifies in NCAA amateurism trial

Ellen J. Staurowsky attended each day of the Sandusky trial.
Ellen J. Staurowsky attended each day of the Sandusky trial. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 19, 2014

Drexel sports-management professor Ellen Staurowsky couldn't have been surprised she'd get some pushback from NCAA attorneys when she testified Monday and Tuesday at the landmark Ed O'Bannon class-action antitrust trial.

The main area she was asked to address by the plaintiffs' attorneys, she said, is whether the business practices associated with FBS football and men's basketball are consistent with the NCAA's claims about amateurism.

Since Staurowsky is coauthor of a book titled College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA Amateur's Myth, you can guess where she stands on the issue.

Still, Staurowsky admitted to being puzzled that NCAA attorneys kept objecting to what she had to say and went after her qualifications.

"Obviously, my credentials stand for themselves," Staurowsky said in a phone interview Tuesday during a break in the trial in Oakland, Calif.

The stakes are as high as they can get for the NCAA. If current and former athletes win the right to be paid for their likenesses' being used for profit, that's a game-changer, a significant brick falling from the NCAA's way of doing business.

Much of Staurowsky's testimony was about that business, the revenue involved, the time spent on athletics by college athletes and her work on studying "clusters" of majors by athletes in the revenue-producing sports. She testified that scholarships can be revoked even if athletes are good students and just as easily kept for struggling students, the point being that college athletes are athletes before they are students.

This isn't a new discussion, obviously. Again, it's the stakes that make it so important. NCAA president Mark Emmert is scheduled to testify Thursday. Staurowsky said she would stick around to hear him. She's more used to being on that side of things; she was an observer, for instance, at Jerry Sandusky's trial.

"This is the first time I ever testified," Staurowsky said. "I don't know what it's like for people. That's probably good. I haven't watched a lot of Court TV, I guess."

This isn't a jury trial. U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken overruled most objections to Staurowsky's qualifications during questioning by the plaintiffs' attorneys.

"I don't really know what was going on there," Staurowsky said of the objections. "I just tried to keep my eye on the ball and maintain focus. I don't know if they really didn't want the court to hear what I had to say."

The X's and O's of testifying were new to her, the professor said. She is used to planning her classes and doing her research with some degree of control.

"It was taken out of my hands," she said. "That was a very interesting experience."

She also found it interesting that questions were raised about her using media reports on some issues. NCAA attorneys pointed out that those reports aren't "peer-reviewed."

You could argue that point since the media constantly are reviewing their peers on these issues. And Staurowsky is outspoken about how last year the NCAA stopped funding the Forum for the Scholarly Study of Intercollegiate Athletics, a colloquium in which peer-reviewed research was presented. She had been program director.

"It really had much more to do with trying to silence dissent than any kind of financial issue," Staurowsky told me last year.

So, no, she was never going to turn up on the NCAA's witness list.

How is this going to come out?

"That's really difficult for me to assess," Staurowsky said. "I think in time we'll know what the judge has determined."

Her stance is clear, though.

"I think the facts in my report, and what I testified to yesterday, I think they speak for themselves," the professor said.

Among her points on the stand: "In the 21st century . . . amateurism is a brand. It is not an ideal."


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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