Judge in Ed O’Bannon Case Appears to be Leaning Toward Decision to Radically Change College Sports
In July, 2009 former UCLA All-American Basketball Player Ed O’Bannon filed a suit against the NCAA to allow players to sell the rights to their names, images and likenesses for use on television broadcasts and in video games.
The problem with that:
The NCAA has always viewed college athletes as amateurs. The official line from the NCAA states that, “All student-athletes are required to adhere to NCAA amateurism requirements to remain eligible for intercollegiate competition.”
The amateurism rule includes restrictions against student athletes signing professional contracts with professional teams, receiving money above actual and necessary expenses, receiving a salary for participating in athletics, or receiving benefits from a prospective agent. All of which may be in jeopardy should the plaintiffs succeed.
The three week case is set to end this week.
Those that have not closely followed the trial may be surprised that the outcome will not be decided by a jury but by a single judge (named Claudia Wilken). I’m not sure that a jury trial would be more fair to either side but one thing is troubling. The future of college athletics will be decided by a person who knows little about college athletics.
Judge Wilken may be an excellent antitrust judge but she has demonstrated a lack of knowledge during the proceedings about the basic structure of college football. Last week she was surprised to discover that the bowl games are run by bowl committees and in yesterday’s proceedings she asked a witness what he was talking about when he referred to the BCS, the FBS, and the CFP (College Football Playoff).
Early in the trial she instructed the NCAA lawyers that “amateurism” was a word she didn’t feel had any bearing on the case. Yet that goes to the very heart of the NCAA’s position which states that, “In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.”
To anyone who has followed the proceedings, it’s easy to see that Judge Wilken is leaning toward the plaintiffs’ side. For one thing, she has already publicly stated she has a problem with the NCAA’s no-pay rule.
If she issues an injunction against the NCAA and it is upheld on appeal, the new model of college sports will be radically different from what it has looked like for the past 108 years.
While some may view that possibility as a victory, the ramifications could signal a defeat for non revenue producing sports. In addition such a decision will put college sports in the marketplace bringing with it salaries, player unions, and possible labor disputes.
The judge will hear final arguments Friday and take a few weeks to issue her decision. While it is impossible to predict how Judge Wilken will rule, after two weeks of hearing the case, it doesn’t look good for the NCAA.