The debate over allowing student-athletes to be compensated beyond the value of their athletic scholarship took an intriguing turn on Tuesday. A federal judge in the Ed O’Bannon case dismissed a motion filed by the NCAA, along with Collegiate Licensing Company, that would prevent football and men’s basketball players from legally pursuing a cut of TV revenue from live sporting event broadcasts.
The dismissal keeps the door open for the O’Bannon lawsuit to become a class-action. O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, has led the suit since 2009 over the NCAA’s use of players’ images, names and likenesses in rebroadcasts. Recently, however, the plaintiffs amended their case to include current athletes and live TV broadcasts.
The NCAA tried (and failed) to call B.S. on that amendment.
“Now the (NCAA and its co-defendants) are facing potential liability that’s based on the billions of dollars in revenue instead of tens or hundreds of millions,” Michael Hausfeld, interim lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said via ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”. “It’s a more accurate context for what the players deserve.”
A tentative date for a class certification hearing is still over a year away and the motion’s dismissal was not a decision that directly results in college athletes getting a slice of television revenue. There’s still an argument to be made over merit which the NCAA can win.
But the fight for athletes to legally pursue a cut of what has become a multi-billion business has continued life. With every new TV deal that is struck to obtain the broadcasts rights of a college football or men’s basketball game, the NCAA’s bread and butter argument of amateurism gets harder to defend.
Actually, that’s being kind; you can’t defend it. At least not from a non-legal perspective. The expectations from every aspect — players, coaches, admins and fans — are too high to consider football and men’s basketball “just a game.” I mean, it is just a game, but it’s not operated or even viewed that way.
That doesn’t mean the NCAA still isn’t doing its best to hold on to the leg of amateurism with a kung-fu grip as it struggles to walk out the door (and it’s not like you can fault ’em for trying).
“Although our motion to strike was denied, the Judge has signaled skepticism on plaintiff’s class certification motion and recognized the plaintiffs’ radical change in their theory of the case,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement. “This is a step in the right direction toward allowing the NCAA to further demonstrate why this case is wrong on the law and that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that this case satisfies the criteria for class litigation.”
Whether the plaintiffs in the O’Bannon suit can make a compelling enough case to allow athletes to be compensated remains to be seen, but the opportunity hasn’t been taken away yet.