Judge Rules Against NCAA In Landmark Ed O’Bannon Case

Ed O'BannonCollege football and basketball players could be in line for paydays worth thousands of dollars once they leave school after a landmark ruling Friday that may change the way the NCAA does business.

A federal judge ruled that the NCAA can’t stop players from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses, striking down NCAA regulations that prohibit them from getting anything other than scholarships and the cost of attendance at schools.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, California, 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. The injunction she issued allows players at big schools to have money generated by television contracts put into a trust fund to pay them when they leave.

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. Individual schools could offer less money, she said, but only if they don’t unlawfully conspire among themselves to set those amounts.

That means FBS football players and Division I basketball players who are on rosters for four years could potentially get around $20,000 when they leave school. Wilken said she set the $5,000 annual threshold to balance the NCAA’s fears about huge payments to players.

“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 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.”

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, and has said previously that it would take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

Former athletes will not be paid, because they gave up their right to damages in a pre-trial move so the case would be heard by a judge, not a jury.

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