Judge rules NCAA violates antitrust law

Posted at 8:22 PM, Aug 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-08 20:22:55-04

(CNN) – A federal judge on Friday ruled in favor of a former UCLA college basketball star who sued to end the NCAA’s control over the rights to college athletes’ names, images and likenesses.

In a landmark decision, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken sided with Ed O’Bannon in his lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

“Before the court in this case is only whether the NCAA violates antitrust law by agreeing with its member schools to restrain their ability to compensate Division I men’s basketball and FBS football players any more than the current association rules allow,” Wilken wrote. “For the reasons set forth above, the court finds that this restraint does violate antitrust law.”

Wilken, in a 99-page ruling, said NCAA rules “unreasonably restrain trade in the market for certain educational and athletic opportunities offered by NCAA Division I schools.”

Wilken issued an injunction that will prevent 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 ruling could potentially change college sports drastically, eventually forcing the NCAA to restructure its amateur model and allow college athletes to be paid.

NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said: “We disagree with the court’s decision that NCAA rules violate antitrust laws. We note that the court’s decision sets limits on compensation, but are reviewing the full decision and will provide further comment later.”

O’Bannon’s lawsuit sought to end the NCAA’s control over the rights to athletes’ names, images and likenesses.

When athletes commit to a university, players are required to sign a waiver that relinquishes their right to their own likenesses in every form.

That means they can’t make money off their television appearances, their jerseys, or in any other way.

The universities get any revenues from selling sports paraphernalia or other material related to the players.

The O’Bannon suit alleged the waivers the athletes are required to sign are illegal and asked that players be able to collectively negotiate the terms of their likenesses in order to keep a share of those profits.

The trial began June 9 in federal court in Oakland, California.

Legal appeals could delay a final outcome for years but the decision is in a position to be the first major NCAA reform effort to take hold.

Already the issues brought up in the case have had an effect, even before the ruling was made.

Texas A&M, Arizona and Northwestern universities have decided to stop selling jerseys with the numbers of specific players.

Instead, Texas A&M will sell the number 12 jersey, in keeping with its 12th man tradition; and Arizona will sell jerseys with numbers that correspond to the year of competition — 14 for this year, according to a school spokesman. Northwestern will sell only jersey number 51, in honor of its head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, and legendary Chicago linebacker Dick Butkus.

The NCAA’s argument in both the ongoing O’Bannon suit and another one filed by former quarterback Sam Keller, also in federal court in Oakland, is that it is trying to protect the amateur model of college sports.