SBD/June 18, 2014/Colleges

NCAA Dealt Another Blow In O'Bannon Trial During Cross-Examination Of UT's Plonsky

Plonsky was cross-examined about a task force that studied paying college athletes
The NCAA's plan for the Ed O'Bannon trial yesterday was "to give Judge Claudia Wilken a detailed look at an ideal combination of athletics and academics" at the Univ. of Texas, according to Lester Munson of ESPN.com. But as UT women's AD Christine Plonsky described "in the loftiest of terms how Texas connects its 'student-athletes' to the values of higher education, she opened the door to a cross examination on her work on NCAA committees that considered the idea of allowing payments to players as a realistic possibility." In "articulate and occasionally inspiring terms, Plonsky started off well by describing the mission of the Texas sports program as 'transforming lives for the benefit of society.'" Her description of the "vigorous academic life of a Texas athlete was just what the NCAA legal team wanted to hear." But then plaintiffs' attorney Bill Isaacson "began his cross examination and confronted Plonsky with a string of emails about a task force that, with her participation, studied the idea of paying athletes for commercial use of their names, images and likeness." Even before Plonsky began testifying yesterday, NCAA attorney Luis Li "drew the judge's wrath with his persistent and patronizing questions" of Drexel Univ. professor Ellen Staurowsky, who has "done scholarly studies of the NCAA for 22 years." Any progress he made "in his attack on Staurowsky's qualifications and expertise was lost as the judge twice ordered Li to terminate lines of questioning." There is "little doubt that the NCAA lawyers worked long and hard on their plan" for yesterday. But there also is "little doubt that the execution of their plans fell short of their hopes and expectations" (ESPN.com, 6/17).

EASY PICKINGS: In N.Y., Ben Strauss notes Plonsky’s appearance represented "a turning point in the trial’s narrative: The plaintiffs have called most of their witnesses, and now the NCAA is having its turn" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/18). SI.com's Andy Staples wrote by calling Plonsky as a witness, the NCAA legal team "served the plaintiffs a hanging curveball that their attorneys clubbed." Plonsky's presence on the stand gave the plaintiffs' attorneys "an opportunity to easily introduce evidence that proved NCAA and school officials have long been worried about the athlete name, image and likeness market that the NCAA's legal team is now claiming doesn't exist" (SI.com, 6/17).

SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE: In Pittsburgh, J. Brady McCollough noted Vanderbilt LB Chase Garnham on Monday took the stand to discuss "the one time he decided to question exactly what he was signing" when agreeing to NCAA Form 13-3a, the "Student-Athlete Statement." Garnham said, "Senior year when I read this form, my views had changed. I did not feel comfortable signing this form." He "chose to instead talk to" Vanderbilt AD David Williams and Compliance Dir Candice Lee "about his options." McCollough wrote it is "important for the plaintiffs' case to show that, by spending 40-hour weeks playing their sport, they were essentially employees who were given full scholarships in exchange for the university's use of their athletic gifts." Staurowsky on Monday testified that the term "student-athlete" was "simply an invention by then-NCAA president Walter Byers in the 1950s to protect the organization against workers compensation liabilities." NCAA attorney Carolyn Luedtke "ended her cross-examination by stating that Garnham had gotten four years of education at Vanderbilt for a total of about $200,000." Garnham had said earlier, "Vanderbilt brought me value, I brought them value. The only difference is that Vanderbilt was able to capitalize off that value, and I was not" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 6/17).
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