U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the O’Bannon v. NCAA case, stating the NCAA cannot fully limit college football and basketball players from profiting from the use of their names, images and likeness.
Wilken issued the 99-page ruling Friday in favor of former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and 19 other plaintiffs, and said the prohibition of football and basketball players from benefiting from the use of their own image violates antitrust laws. In her ruling, Wilken said the "challenged NCAA rules unreasonably restrain trade in the market for certain educational and athletic opportunities offered by NCAA Division I schools."
The limit can be in place as long as it allows for football and basketball players to be paid at least $5,000 in one year, provided the athlete is academically eligible for competition. The cap cannot also be below the full cost of attendance.
If the injunction holds up under what will surely be multiple rounds of appeals, players would not be paid on a yearly basis. As part of the suit, plaintiffs were asking for revenues to be put into a fund that would be available after the athlete declares for professional sports or graduates.
Wilken also said that the NCAA's definition of amateurism has changed over the course of time. She noted that the NCAA's key goals could be still accomplished without restrictive economic measures.
Wilken maintained that the ruling will not alter the way the NCAA operates moving forward.
“Nothing in this injunction will preclude the NCAA from continuing to enforce all of its other existing rules which are designed to achieve legitimate procompetitive goals. This includes its rules prohibiting student-athletes from endorsing commercial products, setting academic eligibility requirements, prohibiting schools from creating athlete-only dorms, and setting limits on practice hours,” Wilken wrote.
In a statement issued by Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy, the NCAA reacted to Wilken’s ruling.
“We disagree with the Court's decision that NCAA rules violate antitrust laws," the statement read. "We note that the Court's decision sets limits on compensation, but are reviewing the full decision and will provide further comment later. As evidenced by yesterday’s Board of Directors action, the NCAA is committed to fully supporting student-athletes.”
The Board of Directors action the NCAA is referring to is a vote that allowed schools in the Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) the freedom to make their own rules. As part of those rules, schools could have the freedom to provide full cost-of-attendance scholarships. But those specifics are far from being finalized.
Before the trial began, the plaintiffs moved to have a bench trial rather than a judge and jury trial, forfeiting any potential damages to former players.
Wilken’s ruling will not have any effect on athletes in the upcoming recruiting cycles in either football or basketball, nor any student-athlete who will enroll prior to July 1, 2016. The ruling comes following the conclusion of a three-week trial in June. At the trial, the NCAA said that if players were compensated for their likenesses it could potentially impact the way that fans view the its sports.
During his testimony, O'Bannon said he was at UCLA as "an athlete masquerading as a student."
The full ruling can be viewed here.
Nick Bromberg contributed to this post.
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