Hey, I picked a winner!
In a column on June 17, I put a few bucks on Plaintiffs in the first race at NCAA Downs, and federal judge Claudia Wilken awarded the photo finish to Ed O’Bannon, et al. on Friday, bringing to conclusion a suit against the NCAA that was filed way back in 2009.
I thought the players’ case had merit based on antitrust principles, and judge Wilken agreed, saying that NCAA rules on player payment for “name, image and likeness” represented restraint of trade.
And I applaud the ruling because it shines a light on the sham that is the NCAA’s “amateurism” crutch, a claim it likes to use when denying players compensation for their services but snaps in two when you examine how much money is being made here and who’s making it.
It’s the right decision, and now the real fun begins … if you think years of legal wrangling is fun.
Besides potential appeals from both sides, the ruling sends a message to those interested in pursuing full-blown pay-for-play status in major Division I football and basketball that there is a legal climate favorable to their cause.
Have at it.
The NCAA needs to be brought down a peg or two, and judge Wilken’s decision did just that, even if the payoff ceiling she established falls way short of what the coalition of former players was seeking.
To review the background, O’Bannon started this whole thing when he discovered that, among the player likenesses that an EA Sports basketball videogame was using, one was irrefutably him, from when he starred at UCLA.
They and the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Company were making millions, and he wasn’t seeing a dime.
“From the outset when I saw my image being used as a character in a video game, I just wanted to right a wrong,” O’Bannon said in a statement on Friday. “It is only fair that your own name, image and likeness belong to you, regardless of your definition of amateurism.”
“This is a major step toward decency for college athletes,” said one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Bill Isaacson, in a statement. “The judge’s decision strikes down NCAA rules restricting their compensation and permits reasonable but significant sharing with athletes — both for the costs of education and to establish trust funds — from the billions in revenues that schools earn from their football and basketball players.”
The NCAA will appeal, and it’s possible that the plaintiffs will, too, since judge Wilken capped the compensation at $5,000 per year of competition. That money is to be put in a trust fund to be awarded when he graduates.
The Wilken ruling is just the first prong of the pitchfork to have drawn blood.
Perhaps the unionization movement by the Northwestern football team will gain a little traction off this.
There is also another antitrust suit against the NCAA out there, filed in March in New Jersey by labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler “to strike down permanently the restrictions that prevent athletes in Division I basketball and the top tier of college football from being fairly compensated for the billions of dollars in revenues that they help generate,” he told ESPN.
“In no other business — and college sports is big business — would it ever be suggested that the people who are providing the essential services work for free. Only in big-time college sports is that line drawn.”
I’ll reiterate this: the O’Bannon case was simply a fight for some fairness.
It’s all too easy to get tired of watching privileged parties battle over money.
Except in unusual cases, major college football and basketball players are not suffering. If the O’Bannon ruling leads to a time when players coming out of high school are shopping their services to the highest bidder, it’s not going to smell nice to you and me.
But the greedheads in the NCAA are profiting from these “amateurs” to a wildly disproportionate degree.
The playing field just tipped, a little bit, but enough to portend more movement.