On August 8, 2014, a U. S. District Court judge handed college athletes another partial victory and the NCAA another partial defeat. The decision may allow NCAA Division I football players and men’s basketball players to receive more than they are currently given by schools, including thousands of dollars per year in trust until eligibility expiration or graduation, whichever is sooner. However, the judge decided against the athletes’ proposal to receive money for commercial endorsements, ruling that the practice would undermine efforts to protect student athletes from commercial exploitation.
As many fans of college athletics know, former UCLA basketball star, Ed O’Bannon, and other former college athletes brought a class action anti-trust suit against the NCAA in behalf of all NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball players. Plaintiffs argued that after college graduation, former college athletes should be entitled to financial compensation for the commercial use of his/her name, likeness and/or image. In addition, Plaintiffs alleged that the “integration with education” part of the college athletic equation is untrue, as they merely pretended to be students and gravitated toward majors that might interfere with their sports participation.
In a 99-page decision, the judge ruled that the NCAA unreasonably restrains trade in violation of anti-trust laws by placing limits on whatever NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball players may receive for playing their sports. The judge also issued an injunction preventing the NCAA “from enforcing any rules or bylaws that would prohibit its member schools and conferences from offering their FBS football or Division I basketball recruits a limited share of the revenues generated from the use of their names, images, and likenesses in addition to a full grant-in-aid.” The injunction cannot be stayed pending appeal, though it will not take effect until the next recruiting cycles for the Football Bowl Subdivision and Division I basketball.
The best bet of this college athletic season is that the NCAA will appeal. Its lawyers are currently requesting written clarification from the judge that the injunction does not affect current student athletes. Though the injunction states, “This injunction shall not affect any prospective student-athlete who will enroll in college before July 1, 2016,” there is an apparent inconsistency in some language of the decision that makes college administrators and lawyers ask whether the injunction will immediately apply to current student athletes. The NCAA’s attorneys plan to appeal after receipt and review of the judge’s written clarification.
For their part, Plaintiffs might appeal the judge’s ruling against them regarding the receipt of money for commercial endorsements, though that remains a mere possibility at this point.
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