After nearly five years of maneuvers and machinations that would baffle a law professor, former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon walked into a federal courtroom Monday, June 9th, 2014, as the star witness in a trial that will decide whether the NCAA must pay college athletes for its use of their likenesses in television broadcasts, video games and other consumer products.
The trial, in Oakland, Calif., comes after more than two dozen lawyers filed some 1,300 related court documents since 2009. It comes after numerous NCAA attempts to terminate O’Bannon’s quest, all of them unsuccessful. It comes after the case has been consolidated, de-consolidated and partially settled.
And, most important, it comes at a critical time in the history of college sports, when the power conferences take in more than a billion dollars in a single year, when numerous head coaches are paid $7 million per year, when assistant coaches can make $800,000, and when universities are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on stadiums and training facilities.
Former athletes like O’Bannon and many current athletes are no longer willing to settle for a full scholarship and the glory of the games; they are asking for their share, and they’re doing so aggressively. In addition to O’Bannon’s lawsuit, 24 other legal actions are pending against the NCAA, all of them seeking a sharing of wealth in one form or another. In the most dramatic of the lawsuits, often referred to as the “Kessler case,” current players are seeking what was once unthinkable — an injunction that would eliminate the NCAA’s bar against paying salaries and force big-time football and basketball schools to pay players in addition to granting scholarships.
The most important document to be shown, one of hundreds that have been scrutinized in the pre-trial skirmishing, might be a six-page, seven-part agreement known as NCAA Form 08-3a that requires seven signatures from each scholarship athlete before each season. In Part IV of the document, the athlete “authorize(s) the NCAA (or a third party acting on behalf of the NCAA) to use your (the athlete’s) name or picture to generally promote (sic) NCA championships or other NCAA events, activities, or programs.”
The players and their legal team will try to persuade Judge Wilken that Form 08-3a is an illegal restriction on the players’ rights to collect on their names and likenesses and a violation of the nation’s antitrust laws. Until the players’ legal team filed an amended lawsuit that included current players and television broadcasts (including ESPN), the O’Bannon case had been limited to former players and the use of their likenesses in video games, highlight films, and other products. Over the vigorous objections of the NCAA and its lawyers, Wilken permitted the players to make the major change in their lawsuit.