Federal Judge Rules Against NCAA in Antitrust Case
By Tim Dahlberg
A federal judge ruled that the NCAA can’t stop college football and basketball players from selling the rights to their names and likenesses, opening the way to athletes getting payouts once their college careers are over.
In a landmark decision, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others in a lawsuit that challenged the NCAA’s regulation of college athletics on antitrust grounds. She issued an injunction prohibiting the NCAA from enforcing its rules on money given to athletes when it comes to their names, images and likenesses.
In a partial victory for the NCAA, though, Wilken said the body that governs college athletics could set a cap on the money paid to athletes, as long as it allows at least $5,000 per athlete per year of competition for players at big football and basketball schools.
“The NCAA’s witnesses stated that their concerns about student-athlete compensation would be minimized or negated if compensation was capped at a few thousand dollars per year,” Wilken wrote.
The NCAA said in a statement it disagreed with the decision, but was still reviewing it.
But Sonny Vaccaro, the former athletic shoe representative who recruited O’Bannon to launch the suit, said it was a huge win for college athletes yet to come.
“The kids who are going to benefit from this are kids who don’t even know what we did today,” Vaccaro said. “It may only be $5,000 but it’s $5,000 more than they get now. The future generation will be the benefactor of all this. There are now new ground rules in college sports.”
The ruling comes after a five-year battle by O’Bannon and others on behalf of college athletes to receive a share of the billions of dollars generated by college athletics by huge television contracts. O’Bannon, who was MVP of the 1995 UCLA national championship basketball team, said he signed on as lead plaintiff after seeing his image in a video game authorized by the NCAA that he was not paid for.
Any payments to athletes would not be immediate. The ruling said regulations on pay will not take effect until the start of the next FBS football and Division I basketball recruiting cycle. Wilken said they will not affect any prospective recruits before July 1, 2016. The NCAA could also appeal.