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Judge in Ed O’Bannon Case Appears to be Leaning Toward Decision to Radically Change College Sports

Former UCLA Player Ed O'Bannon brought suit against NCAA in 2009. (photo:Isaac Brekken/AP)

Former UCLA Player Ed O’Bannon brought suit against NCAA in 2009. (photo:Isaac Brekken/AP)

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.

Do you feel a decision in favor of the O'Bannon law suit would be good for college athletics?

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5 Comments

  1. DBAU81 says:

    If the NCAA loses, it will certainly appeal and will likely seek to put the judge’s ruling on hold in the meantime. Then the case would go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is widely regarded as the most liberal of all the federal appeals courts. From there, the losing side could petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The Supremes accept only a very small percentage of the cases appealed to them each year, but given the significance of the issue in this case they just might take this one. The point is that this will take several more years to play out. And there’s always the possibility that Congress could get into the act in the meantime and enact legislation that would override any court decision. Don’t look for any major changes anytime soon regardless of what this trial judge does.

  2. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Ideally, you want an impartial judge, and jury. A judge that knows nothing about college athletics may well have less of an axe to grind with either side of this one. Of course, no decent lawyer wants an impartial jury or judge. They want one that agrees with them…

  3. AUwaterboy says:

    Does sound like the judge may be leaning that way. Can’t imagine a player’s strike in college football. If this thing eventually goes in to law that could be the future.

  4. hello2196 says:

    I thought he also sued EA Sorts video for using his likeness in a game. Are they still part of the suit? I don’t agree with the NCAA thing but after they are out of school they should get paid for things like that.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      I agree that video games and merchandise after a student graduates could be a different situation. But to say they are due money while they are still student athletes representing a college is just not something that I think would be good for college sports. And yes EA Sports is no longer part of the law suit. They settled the suit for a reported $40 million dollars.