A federal judge has ruled that the NCAA can’t stop college football and basketball players from selling the rights to their names and likenesses, opening the way to athletes getting payouts once their college careers are over.
In a landmark decision issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others in a lawsuit that challenged the NCAA’s regulation of college athletics on antitrust grounds.
In a partial victory for the NCAA, though, Wilken said the NCAA could set a cap on the money paid to athletes, as long as it allows at least $5,000 a year for big school football and basketball players.
Wilken was not asked to rule on the fairness of a system that pays almost everyone but the athletes themselves. Instead, the case was centered on federal antitrust law and whether the prohibition against paying players promotes the game of college football and does not restrain competition in the marketplace.
The plaintiffs gave up their right to damages in a pretrial move that meant the case would be heard only by the judge and not a jury. But even without monetary damages for former players the case was a battle over hundreds of millions of dollars in television contracts that attorneys for the plaintiffs said should be shared with the athletes themselves.
In a scathing post trial brief, they argued that the NCAA basically staked its defense on a 1984 Supreme Court decision that said the fundamental rule of amateurism was at the core of the NCAA’s regulation of college athletics and that the organization could have suggested other remedies to help athletes to justify its control of the college sports marketplace.
“In some places, it is as if our three-week trial did not occur,” plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote.
Attorneys for the NCAA, though, said moving away from the concept of amateurism would drive spectators away from college sports and would upset the competitive balance among schools and conferences. They said some of the relief sought by the plaintiffs would allow for third parties to play players and that universities would lose control of their programs.
Several players testified during the trial that they viewed playing sports as their main occupation in college, saying the many hours they had to devote to the sport made it difficult — if not impossible — to function like regular students.
O’Bannon portrayed himself as a dedicated athlete who would stay after games to work on his shot if needed, but not much of a student. He said his job at UCLA was to play basketball and took up so much time that just making it to class was difficult.
“I was an athlete masquerading as a student,” said O’Bannon, star of the 1995 UCLA team that won the national title. “I was there strictly to play basketball. I did basically the minimum to make sure I kept my eligibility academically so I could continue to play.”
Continue reading this story on the...