NCAA athletes can legally pursue TV money
In dismissing a motion by the NCAA to prevent football and men’s basketball players from legally pursuing a cut of live broadcast revenues, a federal court judge Tuesday raised the stakes for the governing body of college sports as it defends its economic model.
Judge Claudia Wilken issued her ruling Tuesday, rejecting the NCAA’s motion that players in the anti-trust suit led by former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon should be precluded from advancing their lawsuit on procedural grounds.
Now the (NCAA and its co-defendants) are facing potential liability in the billions of dollars instead of tens or hundreds of millions. It’s a more accurate context for what the players deserve.
— Michael Hausfeld, interim lead counsel for plantiffs
The NCAA had objected to the players amending their lawsuit last year to claim a share of all television game revenues, not just those from rebroadcasts.
“Now the (NCAA and its co-defendants) are facing potential liability in the billions of dollars instead of tens or hundreds of millions,” said Michael Hausfeld, interim lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “It’s a more accurate context for what the players deserve.”
Unlike NFL or NBA athletes, players lack a union or similar body to negotiate a share of revenues flowing from media and other licensing contracts. The NCAA does not legally treat athletes as employees, and players have not organized to represent their interests collectively.
The O’Bannon suit attacks that model through the means of class-action, the legal question now before Wilken. Former college stars such as Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson have joined O’Bannon on behalf of all Division I players in football and men’s basketball, asking Wilken to declare that they are similarly situated and to certify the class.
Wilken on Tuesday set the hearing on that motion for June 20, and ordered the NCAA to make its arguments against class certification on the merits rather than procedural objections such as the one she just rejected. The NCAA was joined in that motion by its partner, Collegiate Licensing Company.
In a statement, NCAA general counsel Donald Remy characterized the ruling as a partial victory for the NCAA.
“Although our motion to strike was denied, the judge has signaled skepticism on plaintiff’s class-certification motion and recognized the plaintiffs’ radical change in their theory of the case,” Remy said. “This is a step in the right direction toward allowing the NCAA to further demonstrate why this case is wrong on the law and that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that this case satisfies the criteria for class litigation.”
The ruling was met with enthusiasm by Hausfeld, who leads a team that includes more than a dozen law firms that have invested more than $20 million in legal fees pursuing the lawsuit since 2009. The prospect of an award that recognizes live broadcast revenues helps support their efforts.
Wilken set a jury trial on the matter, if it gets that far, for June 2014.
Tom Farrey | email