Archive for Monday, September 20, 2010

Lawsuits seek to force NCAA to compensate college athletes

September 20, 2010


— Basketball star Ed O’Bannon and quarterback Sam Keller each earned most valuable player awards during their collegiate careers.

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Now, years after playing their final games, they are pursuing what they consider a more significant collegiate legacy. They are attempting through federal lawsuits to force the NCAA to share its annual revenues with student-athletes.

“There are millions and millions of dollars being made off the sweat and grind of the student-athlete,” O’Bannon said. “Student-athletes see none of that other than their education.”

O’Bannon’s lawsuit seeks a share of the money the NCAA earns from licensing former players’ images in commercials, DVDs, video games and elsewhere. Keller’s claims are narrower and focused on the NCAA’s deal with Electronic Arts Inc., which makes basketball and football video games based on college players’ images.

They are making headway in court, racking up preliminary victories that have advanced their cause further than previous legal challenges to the NCAA.

UCLA’s Ed O’Bannon celebrates after his team won the NCAA championship against Arkansas in this April 3, 1995, file photo. O’Bannon and former football quarterback Sam Keller are seeking to radically alter the NCAA’s multibillion dollar business model by leading a legal challenge that seeks a significant revenue share for amateur athletes.

UCLA’s Ed O’Bannon celebrates after his team won the NCAA championship against Arkansas in this April 3, 1995, file photo. O’Bannon and former football quarterback Sam Keller are seeking to radically alter the NCAA’s multibillion dollar business model by leading a legal challenge that seeks a significant revenue share for amateur athletes.

Longtime debate

The debate over compensating college players is almost as old as the NCAA, founded in 1906. Amateurs have long been expected to compete for free and the love of sport — or at least the cost of a scholarship.

But the NCAA’s revenues have skyrocketed in recent years — it recently signed a $10.8 billion, 14-year television deal for basketball — and so have the demands of athletes to share in the money.

For its part, the NCAA is steadfast in its position that student-athletes are prohibited from receiving payment for participating in sports. It also says it has done nothing wrong in marketing itself for the benefit of its member schools and will continue to vigorously contest the lawsuits.

A judge earlier this year refused the NCAA’s request to toss out the eight lawsuits filed across the country by former student-athletes. They are now consolidated into a single federal action in San Francisco. The former collegiate athletes accuse the NCAA of antitrust violations, alleging they are prevented from marketing their images because the NCAA locked up their commercial rights forever during their college days.

O’Bannon alleges that an NCAA monopoly is enforced with one particular form it requires every athlete to sign before they can play. He says the form grants the NCAA exclusive commercial rights forever.

The NCAA says the form merely give it permission to “promote NCAA events, activities or programs.”

In a court filing, the NCAA said the form has little to do with commercial rights.

“It says nothing about the use of student-athlete images by member institutions, nothing about video games, and absolutely nothing about the right of a former student-athlete to sell his own collegiate image after graduation,” the court filing stated.

U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken said the lawsuits, at first glance, appeared to show the NCAA’s “conduct constitutes an unreasonable restraint of trade.”

Legal analysts said that ruling will compel the NCAA to turn over many of its business secrets to the players’ lawyers. No previous lawsuit has advanced to this stage, said Vermont Law School professor Michael McCann, who specializes in sports law. He said even if the players ultimately lose their cases the documents could add further fuel to the debate over compensating student-athletes.

“When we see what kind of money is being tossed around and how much money is made off players,” McCann said, “it could invigorate this debate. It will hit at the core issues of amateurism.”

First lawsuit

Keller, who was named the 2004 Sun Bowl’s MVP for leading Arizona State University to victory, filed the first lawsuit in May 2009. He accuses the NCAA, its commercial arm Collegiate Licensing Co. and video-game maker Electronic Arts Inc. of using athletes’ names, images and likenesses without compensating the athletes.

O’Bannon, 38, filed his lawsuit two months later and six more nearly identical lawsuits followed.

O’Bannon claims the NCAA violated antitrust laws when it compelled him to sign away commercial rights to his image before he could play basketball for UCLA. Eleven former student-athletes have since joined O’Bannon’s lawsuit.

He said the NCAA uses that form to prevent him from earning royalties when the NCAA licenses his image to video game makers, television networks, apparel makers and many others who continue to market the 1995 UCLA Bruins basketball team, which won the national championship. The seven other lawsuits make similar claims with Keller taking particular aim at the NCAA’s contract with Electronic Arts Inc., which makes video games based on college football and basketball that Keller claims uses images of student-athletes without compensation.

The NCAA counters O’Bannon and all other former student-athletes are free to market themselves as they see fit.

“There are a lot of inaccurate claims,” said NCAA spokesman Bob Williams, who said former athletes such as O’Bannon and Keller are free to make deals with anyone they choose. “The NCAA does not license its students’ likenesses.”

All the lawsuits are seeking class action status to represent untold thousands of current and former athletes. Antitrust verdicts are tripled.

“If they are successful, it could mean a lot economically in terms of damages,” said Rick Karcher, who directs the Center for Law and Sports at Florida Coastal School of Law.

O’Bannon said even if the players lose, he still hopes his efforts will have brought student-athletes closer to compensation.

“This was a great opportunity to pave the way for student-athletes to get paid,” said O’Bannon, who works as a Toyota salesman outside Las Vegas. “It’s something that is long overdue.”


drnater 7 years, 6 months ago

This could be a slippery slope, but I think its needed. Reggie Bush is my prime example, the guy flat out gave everything he had on the field for USC. Was a player all the coaches loved, and because he "alledgedly" accepted money/rent for his parents, USC completely wipes him from their history. If that's the case, they should give back the millions of dollars that he helped make them during is time (or now, time he "wasn't" there) he was there. Its a disgrace that a guy who won numerous prestigious awards for them, helped them win a national championship, and was leaps and bounds above anyone else in the heisman, and the university just turns their back on him. Unnacceptable.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

"He accuses the NCAA, its commercial arm Collegiate Licensing Co. and video-game maker Electronic Arts Inc. of using athletes’ names, images and likenesses without compensating the athletes."

Without compensation? If they think they weren't "compensated", then let them skip school next time and see how much of a contract they would have gotten in the pros fresh out of high school or after playing minor-league football or basketball for a few years.The vast majority of these guys would never have made it to the big time at all if it wasn't for their 'uncompensated' time in the NCAA. Let's be realistic - most of these players didn't choose a school because they were looking for a good education on a scholarship - they picked the team that would put them on TV more, the market where a lot of scouts watch the games, the coach with a good record for sending guys to the next level. The one-and-dones that are just killing their time before going to the pros are one thing, but even they have alternatives if they don't want to do the college thing.

The really funny part is they're claiming the schools and the NCAA used their image without compensation - but they want to use their status as a star athlete for that school to make money. KU will go after a T-shirt maker for using the letter "K" on a shirt, and apparently that's okay. But these guys should be able to trade and profit on their image not as John Smith, but as John Smith, Jayhawk/Sooner/Trojan? Do they think their image would have been used in a video game without their being a star athlete for the school? Does EA Sports have video games featuring playground players?

Nobody made these kids go to college. They signed the paper, they took the deal. Apparently it was worth it at the time.

jvinland 7 years, 6 months ago

Not much in life is really free! The free full-ride scholarships provided to college athletes are anything but free. They involve being and working at at university year-round. The exhausting physical work amounts to a full time job. An athlete is not allowed to earn any income while enrolled in school. I saw other students with money they had earned and as an athlete I didn't even have the same privilege. Contact sports take a physical toll on one's body that must be dealt with for the rest of one's life. For instance, later today I'm getting a total knee replacement. I also had several other surgeries as a result of the time I "played" college sports. The universities and athletic departments including the NCAA make millions of dollars from their athletic teams. Everyone seems to make money in intercollegiate sports except the athlete. It is about time this is changed!

fyrfighter 7 years, 6 months ago

okay, what am I missing here? Student/athletes go to a college to GET AN EDUCATION, and some even play sports. Compensated? That is what happens if you are good enough to go pro. Been that way for quite a while as I remember. But wait. Why not start earning that easy money when you are 18? Right. Most players are way overpaid for what they do anyway. There is no one alive worth the money these folks make. If you do not make it to the pros, you should at least have the college education to get a real job. If not, that is your fault, not ours. Life is tough. There are no guarantees, except dying. People need to wake up and realize this. Folks think everything should be given to them without any real struggle. Ask your grandparents what struggle is. Folks now days don't have a clue.

Jock Navels 7 years, 6 months ago

student athletes play for the love of the game at NAIA schools, and division II and III schools in the NCAA. and the schools run scrape by low budget programs...old fashioned gritty stuff...actually fun to TV timeouts, real grass fields, good seats close to the action...but NCAA Division ONE football and basketball are big business...the players work year round at least 40 hr weeks at their sport...guys like lew make millions...the players make nothing...they should all receive, as part of their scholarship, maybe 25 to 40 large a year...the money is there.

notajayhawk 7 years, 6 months ago

So when the bidding wars start, and the next Xavier Henry comes along and his agent is telling Bill Self that look, he really really really wants to play for KU but K-State is offering sooooo much more and he has to take care of his family, and then your seats up at cloud level start costing $1,000 ...

drnater 7 years, 6 months ago

I don't know about that much money, but I find it perfectly understandable if they were to be paid for say practice time. The practice time is what conflicts with them getting a job, so why not use it as a work-study type deal?

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