U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken on Thursday "green-lighted Ed O'Bannon's class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA to proceed to trial beginning June 9," according to Stewart Mandel of SI.com. If there is no settlement before that date, the plaintiffs "will ask a jury to strike down the NCAA's age-old restrictions preventing athletes from cashing in on their name, likeness and image." The purpose of Thursday's hearing was for Wilken "to ask questions of both sides in response to their dueling requests for a summary judgment that would have ended the case before proceeding to trial." It is "a rare occurrence, and as Wilken flatly acknowledged near the end of the two-hour proceeding, 'The whole case is not going away on summary judgment.'" But Wilken "could issue a ruling that dismisses certain types of evidence or narrows the scope of the case." Mandel noted ultimately a jury, "not the judge, will decide both sides' fate." But Wilken indicated that she "might throw out one or more of those justifications from consideration." EA and the Collegiate Licensing Co. "are no longer defendants in the case" following a $4M settlement announced in November. However, Wilken "expressed concern Thursday that the settlement has not yet been finalized" (SI.com, 2/22). Wilken said her order could come "relatively soon." But she added that the order "wouldn't decide the entire case" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/21).
Former Northwestern Univ. QB Kain Colter's allegations that the program "places athletics over academics" were countered by school officials on Thursday, who urged the National Labor Relations Board to "deny a bid by the school's football players to form the first college athletes' union in U.S. history," according to Michael Tarm of the AP. Witnesses for the school challenged the College Athletes Players Association attorneys' assertions that NU football is "highly profitable." The witnesses denied that classroom performance "is given far less weight than on-the-field success." NU Deputy AD/Student-Athlete Welfare Janna Blais said, "The basis of everything we do is ... academics. It is absolutely in our fabric" (AP, 2/20). Blais said that she "has 'serious concerns' that if the football players are able to form a union, it could force the university to offer equitable benefits to female athletes." She said, "Title IX law mandates you equitably provide services, resources and programs to both genders. ... We will need to provide opportunities and benefits to our female student athletes in an equitable fashion." Blais also "ticked off several examples Thursday of football players who have taken classes that conflicted with their practice schedule" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/21). The CHICAGO SUN-TIMES notes it has not been suggested by either side during the hearing that NU is "a renegade, nasty, even uncaring institution." Blais said, "We do not treat our athletes as 'assets'" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/21). ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg wrote, "Colter is a sharp, eloquent and compelling spokesman. But is he enough? It doesn't appear so." NLRB Hearing Officer Joyce Hofstra said, "The record is weak on the players' side. ... We've only had one player on the stand. We have heard nothing on the relationship between the player and the coach. I'm hoping at some point that we have that" (ESPN.com, 2/20).
PURPLE LOYALTY: Former NU QB Dan Persa defended his alma mater, saying, "Everything at Northwestern was handled in a first-class way. To see it being dragged through the mud, I was pretty upset. There was some unjust criticism, especially for a place that does it so right." Jaguars WR and NU alum Jeremy Ebert said, "Northwestern was attacked and portrayed in the wrong way" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/21). ESPN.com's Lester Munson wrote NU's effort in defending itself is "massive, expensive and possibly dangerous." If the school "is working so hard to defeat the players," it would seem possible that the players are "a more serious threat than anyone thought when they filed their petition." NU "may be protesting a bit too much and giving the players credibility that they would not otherwise enjoy." As the school "has mounted its huge effort to defeat the players, the players' quest has become less quixotic and more plausible." This "is becoming interesting" (ESPN.com, 2/20).