SBD/Issue 102/Collegiate Sports

NCAA Loses Motion To Dismiss Suit From Former UCLA F Ed O'Bannon

O'Bannon Expected To Name
More Plaintiffs To Suit
A federal court judge yesterday denied the NCAA’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against it by a former UCLA basketball player who claims the organization is violating antitrust law by using the images of former student-athletes for commercial purposes without compensating them. “We won an important ruling today,” said Jon King, attorney for former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon. “The court denied the NCAA’s motion to dismiss our case, which means we will be entitled to get from the NCAA and all of its member schools and conferences all of their financial information about the way they utilize player images.” He added, “By letting this case go forward, the judge agreed there is a very serious question to be examined here. The question is: Is it fair for the NCAA and its members to pay exactly zero to use former players' images forever for commercial purposes?” Oakland federal court judge Claudia Wilken did dismiss some of the claims brought against the NCAA. The NCAA in a statement said, “We’re pleased that the Court recognized defects in some of the claims made by plaintiffs and dismissed those. The Court’s other rulings at this preliminary stage of the cases do not diminish the NCAA’s confidence that we will ultimately prevail on all of the claims" (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

WE'VE ONLY JUST BEGUN: While O'Bannon is the only named plaintiff thus far, King said that a "list of players from different eras will be added in about a month." USA TODAY's Marlen Garcia notes Wilkin yesterday dismissed the suit from former Arizona State football player Craig Newsome, and combined O'Bannon's case with that of former Nebraska and Arizona State QB Sam Keller, who "filed a similar suit against the NCAA" and Electronic Arts. King said that NCAA's "related financial records and those of member schools and conferences will be scrutinized in order to give the court a figure for damages." He said, "Performers are entitled to be compensated. This is the one business in America that has operated to the contrary. Now, we'll find out what the numbers are." Garcia notes a "setback for the players" was Wilken's dismissal of "common-law accounting claims against the NCAA" and Collegiate Licensing Co. (USA TODAY, 2/9).

NCAA UNDER FIRE: YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel noted O'Bannon's attorneys "can now begin the discovery process that may unlock how the business operates, which could have an impact beyond this case." King said, "This is a truly historic day -- to our knowledge, no one has ever gotten behind the scenes to examine how student-athletes' current and future rights in their images are divided up and sold." Wetzel noted the case "could lead to former student-athletes getting a cut of the multi-billion dollar college sports revenue pool and dramatically impact the way college athletics operates" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/8). The NCAA's licensing deals are estimated at more than $4B, and Univ. of Vermont law professor Michael McCann believes that the case "would probably be followed closely by members of Congress who were interested in the NCAA's tax-exempt status." McCann: "I think it's an important case because it gets at the core of the student-athlete mission" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/9).

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