Lawsuit seeks to change how NCAA athletes are compensated

In his lawsuit against the NCAA and EA Sports, former UCLA basketball great Ed O'Bannon seeks to gain publicity rights royalties for current players which would be put into a trust fund that they can access after their college eligibility is exhausted. Ex

Steve Berkowitz
September 1, 2012

Lawyers representing former and current college football and men's basketball players in an anti-trust lawsuit on Friday indicated for the first time that they seek not only to collect billions of dollars in damages from the NCAA and its Division I schools for using the athletes' images, names and likenesses, but also to fundamentally change how athletes are compensated for playing these sports in college.

In seeking certification of their suit in U.S. District Court in California as a class action, the lawyers filed a motion in which they said that while they are seeking monetary damages on behalf of former athletes, they "do not seek compensation to be paid to current student-athletes while they maintain their eligibility" but rather "a less restrictive, namely that monies generated by the licensing and sale of class members' names, images and likenesses can be temporarily held in trust" until their end of their college playing careers.

The suit, initially filed in May 2009, is against the NCAA; video-game maker Electronic Arts and the nation's leading collegiate trademark licensing and marketing firm, Collegiate Licensing Co. Its named plaintiffs include former basketball stars Ed O'Bannon, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell.

They allege that the defendants violated anti-trust law by conspiring to fix at zero the amount of compensation athletes can receive for the use of their names, images and likenesses in products or media while they are in school and by requiring athletes to sign forms under which they relinquish in perpetuity all rights pertaining to the use of the names, images and likenesses in ways including TV contracts, rebroadcasts of games, and video game, jersey and other apparel sales.

Under anti-trust law, the statute of limitations on damages is four years back from the date of filing.

Thus, the athletes' lawyers have been seeking to collect information about the revenues of the NCAA and Division I schools and conferences from TV contracts and from the licensing and royalties related to video-game sales from 2005 to present.

Those revenues are in the billions, and Friday's filing references an accompanying sealed report from one of their experts, Roger Noll, an economics professor emeritus at Stanford who has written on the business of sports who provided a method of "determining how this revenue would allocated between colleges and student-athletes in the absence of the restrictions that the NCAA imposes."

Noll's method, according to the filing, "is based on a 50-50 split for telecasts and a one-third split for video games, based on recognized economic principles, examples from professional sports, and examples from music artists' licensing." It then entails "equal allocations among all members of a team in a given year, and these team members are then further divided according to whether they were current or former players at the time that the revenue was generated."

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams could be immediately reached for comment Friday night.