One way or another, Martin Jenkins on his way to becoming a household name

'Jenkins seeks to drop a bomb on the business model for college sports, strip away the NCAA's rules and truly open the market'

Darius Robinson, left, and Martin Jenkins both scored touchdowns on interception returns against S.C. State in the first half of their game at Memorial Stadium in Clemson

Photo by Mark Crammer

Darius Robinson, left, and Martin Jenkins both scored touchdowns on interception returns against S.C. State in the first half of their game at Memorial Stadium in Clemson

As far as appearances go, Clemson's Martin Jenkins is just another face in the crowd - a second-string senior cornerback trying to fend off the advances of a talented freshman and claim a starting position for a top-25 college football team.

There's much more to Jenkins than meets the eye, however.

He's tough, having battled his way through a string of career-threatening injuries and multiple surgeries to play a significant role in Clemson's recent on-field resurgence.

He's also smart and, some might say, even a visionary. Others would contend that he's opportunistic and ungrateful, rocking a boat that has served him well, providing athletic and educational opportunity.

Jenkins has divided even his Clemson supporters by adding his name as a plaintiff to a lawsuit that is challenging the very foundation of the way college athletics carries out its lucrative business.

While the summer spotlight remains on the ongoing O'Bannon vs. NCAA trial, of which Jenkins' former teammate, Darius Robinson, is a part, the so-called Kessler Suit takes a much broader swipe at the NCAA.

While the O'Bannon action is limited in scope, seeking payment for players whose likenesses have been licensed by the NCAA and used for profit in EA Sports' college football videogames, the second suit - filed by antitrust attorney Jeffrey Kessler in March -challenges the NCAA's basic economic model, which limits the compensation of student-athletes in the revenue-generating sports of football and men's basketball to scholarships that typically fall well sort of the full cost of attendance.

The suit filed by Kessler, which was lodged in New Jersey and has yet to come to trial, is increasingly being referred to as the Jenkins Suit, principally because, of the five players who originally joined the suit as plaintiffs, the Clemson cornerback is the only one with college eligibility remaining.

"Jenkins," writes Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, "seeks to drop a bomb on the business model for college sports, strip away the NCAA's compensation rules and truly open the market for football and men's basketball players."

Kessler, who two decades ago was part of a legal team that argued a case that successfully dismantled the NFL's existing free agent system, offered the following description of the new action in documents filed with the court in March:

"The Defendants (the Power Five conferences) and their member institutions have lost their way far down the road of commercialism, signing multibillion dollar contracts wholly disconnected from the interests of 'student athletes,' who are barred from receiving the benefits of competitive markets for their services even though their services generate these massive revenues. As a result of these illegal restrictions, market forces have been shoved aside and substantial damages have been inflicted upon a host of college athletes whose services have yielded riches only for others. This class action is necessary to end the NCAA's unlawful cartel, which is inconsistent with the most fundamental principles of antitrust law."

In his Sports Illustrated piece, Staples observes that "no case before has taken such direct aim at the business model, and by including the five wealthiest conferences, the NCAA and schools can't use one another as shields...Discovery alone will be a nightmare for all these entities as Kessler's team unearths as much embarrassing material as it can find. A loss in that case would fundamentally change college sports.

"Losing the O'Bannon case would mean schools might have to budget differently if they lose a chunk of broadcast revenue to the players, but the schools in the Power Five were already planning on giving more money to the players.

"Losing the Jenkins case could mean that the NCAA could no longer enforce scholarship limits or the amount schools could pay for scholarships. It would be an open market, and the finances could change considerably."

Michael McCann, a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated, says Jenkins' position as one of the plaintiffs helps define the suit's focus in asking for an injunction to business-as-usual, as opposed to seeking monetary damage awards.

"It’s significant in that it builds a stronger case for an injunction," McCann said. "These players (Jenkins and other current players who have joined the case since it was first filed) are currently impacted by these rules, as opposed to...former players. So, in that regard, it’s a stronger argument because they are currently being harmed, allegedly, by these rules.

"I think it’s a big deal because it involves current players who are essentially asking for the right to become free agents. Basically they’re asking for a world where college athletes are like college coaches: they can sign with any college that pays them the most money. That’s a very different model from the college sports that we all know. It’s a lawsuit that tries to drive a stake into the model of college sports that we’re all familiar with."

There is currently no timetable for when the Kessler-Jenkins case will come to trial. And how the case is tried could be impacted by the outcome of the O'Bannon vs. NCAA proceedings.

In the meantime, Jenkins will go about his business, returning to the field in August and trying to win a starting cornerback spot for the Tigers in competition with freshman Mackensie Alexander, sophomore Cordrea Tankersley and fellow senior Garry Peters.

Jenkins would surely like to be best known for his accomplishments on the field. But one way or another, by the end of the year he's likely to be, in sports circles, a household name.

Follow Kerry Capps on Twitter at oandwkc

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