ATHENS - Former Georgia and NFL football stars Matt Stinchcomb, Jon Stinchcomb and David Greene were at a press conference Monday to talk about their charity event. And they did talk about it at length.
But what ended up dominating the conversation - after Matt Stinchcomb brought it up - was the potentially groundbreaking lawsuit brought against the NCAA by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon.
And the former Georgia football stars are squarely in O'Bannon's corner.
There was a preliminary hearing last week in the long-awaited O'Bannon case. At its essence, the plaintiff and his lawyers argue that the NCAA has profited through selling the likenesses of players, whether it's selling jerseys, or through video games, or other ways.
The case isn't due to go to trial for awhile, perhaps a year, but has garnered plenty of media attention, as well as warnings from NCAA officials that an adverse ruling would severely hurt college sports. Basically, the notion of amateurism would be crushed. The NCAA's many critics have countered that the organization is just crying wolf, and that the NCAA has been ripping off student-athletes for years.
On Monday, the three former Georgia stars, who were promoting their Countdown to Kickoff charity event, were asked a big-picture question about being a student-athlete, centering more on how they deal with being in the spotlight. After answering that for a few minutes, Matt Stinchcomb obliquely mentioned the O'Bannon case, saying the courts were about to weigh in on how much compensation should be given to athletes.
Stinchcomb, 36, was asked if he had strong feelings on the O'Bannon case. His one-word answer: "Yes."
Everyone laughed, then he explained.
"These players feel as if their images and likenesses have been used, and they didn't realize any type of value for having had their likeness used, then that needs to be addressed in some capacity," said Stinchcomb, who was a first-team All-American at Georgia in 1998, and a first-round pick in the 1999 NFL draft. "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. And that's exactly what I got. What I think we're seeing now is it's going beyond some of that. Now there may 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 granting to the NCAA to use their likeness as individuals, if in fact that's what's going on."
When Greene was in school, his number 14 was sold all over Georgia. But his name was not on any of those jerseys, so he didn't receive any of the income. Still, it was clear whose jersey it was supposed to be, just as this year plenty of No. 11 jerseys are being sold, without Aaron Murray's name on the back.
"You could consider college sports as amateur, which it is ... but there's a big business around it," said Greene, the winningest quarterback in Georgia history, who spent three years in the NFL. "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."
Greene added that he didn't want current athletes paid to the extent that they're driving around campus in Bentleys.
"But if they're singling out guys that the university's making money off of, it's something to consider," Greene said. "Whether it's in video games, you look at NCAA, the characters of the guys, they're similar to the actual player."
"I think there's some merit there (to O'Bannon's case)," said Jon Stinchcomb, who played at Georgia from 1998-2001, and was a second-round pick by New Orleans in 2002. "I think you can recognize that it really has gone past a universal school level, to individual," Jon Stinchcomb said. "Has somebody gone above and beyond to take advantage of what you've done and what you've been able to accomplish, and they're profiting off of it because of you, and not because of the school."
The Stinchcombs and Greene all played in the NFL, and therefore all got checks from the NFL Players Association, which is compensated for selling the player's marketing rights. But college players get nothing.
"I think we all know the reason we don't see the long snapper's jersey in the book store is there's no individual interest in that long snapper," Stinchcomb said. "There's a reason why when you walk into any book store in the country you see an individual player's number and you know why it's his number. ... There's something that has happened that is an additional element. It used to be: You play ball, you get to go to school. Now it's you play ball, you get to go to school, and we're also gonna be able to market you, and your likeness and your abilities to capture X amount of dollars in additional revenue streams."
The three former players seemed sensitive to the notion that student-athletes get a free education, and that some consider that sufficient payment. Matt Stinchcomb also made clear that he doesn't have sympathy for athletes who don't get their degrees.
"If you're out here and you're playing football and you're complaining for free, (but) you're not taking advantage of the academics and the diploma, then in a lot of ways yeah, you're playing for free, and that's your own choice," he said. "But where I think that scenario looses traction, and the push-back I guess I would have at the NCAA level is they have gone above and beyond this implied contract that says: You play ball, we give you the education. Except now, it's you play ball, and in compensation we'll allow you to go to school here, we'll pay room and board here ... and by the way on the side here, we're gonna have a contract with whatever licensing company for them to have the rights to sell your jersey in the bookstores, and we're also going to contract with video game makers, and we're gonna use your likeness, and we're gonna capture that value, and none of that will be realized by you as an individual."
This isn't about trying to join and make money off O'Bannon's case, according to the players.
"I don't think any of us are expecting anything," Greene said.
"I've already put down a couple down-payments on some things hoping that this will come through," Matt Stinchcomb said, joking.
The Countdown to Kickoff event will be July 13, from noon to 3 p.m. at the UGA practice fields. The charities this year are the Georgia Transplant Foundation and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Jon Stinchcomb lives near Grayson with a Christian-based organization. Matt Stinchcomb and Greene work at the same commerical insurance company. Stinchcomb lives in Gwinnett County, and Greene lives in Grayson.
David Greene discusses changes in college sports.