Ed O'Bannon vs. The NCAA: The Trial is Over, Now What?

Win McNamee

The other day Fox was asking where he could keep up to date on "college sports' biggest-ever trial". SBN has put together an amazing hub where you can follow the arguments and could have gotten live updates. The trial ended Friday and the Judge, Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California, will now decide the case.

For those who may not know, the case brought by UCLA's Ed O'Bannon and 19 other filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA for anti-trust violations. They allege that:

the NCAA is violating antitrust law by forbidding players from making money from their own names, images, and likenesses.

O'Bannon started the action after seeing his image being used in an EA video game and then in NCAA tournamentpromos from UCLA's last basketball championship run (1995, oh so long ago). The NCAA and others (EA sports) were using his likeness to enrich themselves and were not sharing the profits with the players they were using to promote their product. The NCAA bans such sharing. Others such as Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson are also part of the suit which seeks an injunction against the NCAA rules that forbid players to profit from their "own names, images, and likenesses." EA Sports has settled out of court, however the NCAA suffered a major loss when Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in December that the case had merit, stating:

I don't think amateurism is going to be a useful word here.

and in response to the concern over competitive balance and paying players the Judge responded:

Maybe there's a less restrictive alternative? Maybe you could enforce more competitive balance by having coaches salaries addressed.

According to Kevin Trahan of SBN, because it is an anti-trust suit, in order to the players to win, the plaintiffs would have to prove that:

athletes, schools, and/or consumers are being harmed by the NCAA's restraints on athletes getting paid.

The NCAA was forced to prove why its system is pro-competitive, and why athletes wouldn't make any money in an open market.

Again, according to Trahan, the essential questions and winners in each argument were:

1. Would paying players ruin competitive balance? Edge O'Bannon.

2. Would paying players actually hurt their education? Edge: Strong O'Bannon

3. Would paying players break division one? Edge: Slight O'Bannon

4. Do athletes have television rights? Edge: Slight NCAA

Trahan believes the NCAA will appeal the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary and also has plans to seek Congressional support for its current system should it need to:

Many people have speculated that the NCAA has been playing for appeal all along, knowing it had no chance once Wilken disregarded two of its pro-competitive arguments: that amateurism is special and that football and men's basketball players can't be paid because it would force other sports to be cut. For the NCAA to truly win, it needs to win on every account, and it's going to be very hard for the organization to keep players from marketing themselves without those arguments.

The fact that the organization's witnesses struggled so badly already puts them at a disadvantage, but they'll have their say in appeals court. And they'll appeal the decision all the way up to the Supreme Court, if they can.

And if the NCAA does ultimately prevail against O'Bannon, an even more aggressive lawsuit awaits.

There's also another avenue the NCAA is exploring: gaining Congressional support.

A ruling in the case is expected in August and should it come sooner will let you know.

I would like to close with a lengthy quote from Charles Pierce of regarding the NCAA:

It markets their personhood for its own benefit. It sells that personhood to its own corporate sponsorship for its own financial benefit. If you are a college athlete, you must - willingly or unwillingly - help the NCAA and its member institutions keep faith with Coca-Cola. One of the ugly moral truths about all our sports is that athletes represent one of the categories of Americans who can be legally and publicly treated as commodities, and nowhere is that truth more obvious, and more ugly, than in college athletics, where the athletes are not only forbidden from profiting from their own commodification, but also required to help the institutions they represent to profit from it. Then they have to hear the people who profit most from the commodities who play ball for them tell a judge that they're doing it only for the athlete's own good.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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