While the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) landscape remains entwined with issues regarding compensation of student-athletes, another element of the debate reached a “foothold”…
U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken (Oakland, CA) recently issued an injunction invalidating NCAA rules that prohibit student-athletes from being compensated for use of their names, images, and likenesses in television broadcasts and video games.
The decision is a win for certain student-athletes in the sense that it would allow football players in the top 10 conferences, and all Division I men’s basketball players, a limited share of the revenue generated by schools from the use of their likenesses.
However, there are aspects of the injunction that provide factors somewhat beneficial to the NCAA. Based on witness testimony and current NCAA rules, Judge Wilken determined that the NCAA and schools are allowed to cap the amount of money paid to college athletes while they are in enrolled in school; an eligible athlete must be paid at least $5,000 per year they are academically eligible, but schools do not have to necessarily pay more than that. Furthermore, the compensation will likely be deferred as schools are permitted to pay the funds to a trust, which would then be held until after an athlete’s eligibility ends or he graduates, whichever occurs sooner.
Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon had filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and other former college athletes against the NCAA, alleging that the NCAA’s prohibition on allowing student-athletes from receiving any compensation other than scholarships and the cost of attendance at schools violated federal antitrust laws.
The NCAA traditionally required student-athletes to sign a form before participating in athletics, which gave the NCAA permission to use player images and likenesses to “promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs.” Because of this document, student-athletes had been unable to negotiate deals for the use of their likenesses, which the plaintiffs alleged was an unreasonable restraint on trade conspiring to fix the price for the use of athletes’ image and likeness at zero.
The injunction stops short of allowing athletes to receive money for endorsements, nor does it prevent the NCAA from creating rules that prohibit athletes from selling their name, image, and likeness rights individually. But Judge Wilkin’s ruling is certainly a battle won by the Ed O’Bannon plaintiffs in this continuing “war” with the NCAA over amateurism and legal rights of student-athletes.
An issue with the decision is that was confined “revenue sports” (football players in the top 10 conferences, and all Division I men’s basketball players). Thus, for the time being it remains up to the NCAA and the individual conferences and schools to determine how, or if at all, “non-revenue athletes” will be compensated for use of their likeness. “Non-revenue athletes” encompasses the remaining Division I, Division II, and Division III athletes, as well as female student-athletes. Application of Title IX, which requires equal opportunities and resources for all male and female athletes, is seemingly called into question if only certain athletes are able to be paid for to use of their likeness.
The ruling will not affect any recruit enrolled in college before July 1, 2016. The NCAA has announced that it will appeal the ruling.
Authored by CJ Stroh