NEW YORK – Two court-ordered mediation sessions this month between the NCAA and lawyers representing former UCLA player Ed O’Bannon have gone nowhere, a source familiar with the discussions told Yahoo Sports.
That increases the likelihood O’Bannon’s potentially ground breaking class action lawsuit will go to trial this summer just as the NCAA is under assault from a variety of entities.
O’Bannon v. NCAA challenges how the NCAA compensates current and former players and how it controls and can sell a player's likeness in perpetuity. It is currently scheduled to begin June 9 in United States District Court, Northern District of California.
Earlier this month, Judge Claudia Wilken ordered both sides to mediate their differences over how the college sports business model works or risk a court decision that could leave one, or both, sides unhappy as a legal solution is found for what is essentially the operation of a complex multi-billion dollar business.
Lawyers for both sides met each of the last two Mondays in San Francisco with a mediator, yet little was accomplished and almost nothing substantive was even discussed, the source said. Not surprisingly, the NCAA appears unwilling to bend on its stance of defending amateurism and its current business practices. It has taken a hardline approach throughout this case.
Frustration is rising that further mediation, if it occurs, would be nothing but a waste of time. The court has asked the NCAA to submit by Friday afternoon whether it would like to continue the mediation.
The NCAA confirmed the sessions occurred but denied further comment.
“We – like all parties in the case – are bound by confidentiality so we can't discuss how the discussions went,” NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn told Yahoo Sports.
O’Bannon’s lead attorney, Michael Hausfeld, also acknowledged the sessions to Yahoo Sports but offered no details.
O’Bannon, the 1995 Final Four MVP, is the lead plaintiff in a now four-year-old suit. It is both the most prominent and furthest along in the legal process of a slew of current or planned legal challenges to the NCAA.
Earlier this week, a national labor relation’s board defined Northwestern football players as "employees" of the university (a key distinction) and said they could vote on whether to form a union. Northwestern promised to appeal the ruling.
Two current major athletic directors told Yahoo Sports this week they believe it would be best for the future of college athletics if schools, through the NCAA central organization, reformed things itself and attempted to meet at least some of the demands of current and former players.
“Who knows what a judge would come up with?” one AD said. “Going to trial and just hoping to win makes no sense. There is going to be college sports, we should set the best path possible.”
That is easier said then done, however. Current NCAA president Mark Emmert prioritized getting a fairly simple $2,000 per year stipend for athletes to help meet cost-of-living concerns passed only to have it rejected by smaller schools who saw it as too great of a financial burden.
The NCAA has then spent nearly a year reworking the proposed legislation to provide the option for wealthier athletic programs to provide the stipend. That has yet to be even voted on.
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