The Ed O'Bannon case against the NCAA was set to go to a jury trial and a bench trial until Wednesday night.
Just before a deadline at the conclusion of Wednesday, the named plaintiffs in the case told their attorneys they did not want to seek individual damages claims against the NCAA, meaning they didn't intend to go through with a jury trial. Instead, the trial will be in the hands of U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken.
The case is scheduled to go to trial June 9. In O'Bannon v. NCAA, he plaintiffs are seeking to change the way the NCAA compensates players and how it uses players' likenesses. Wilken can decide to issue an injunction that prohibits the NCAA from limiting the compensation football and men's basketball players receive.
In the joint statement, the plaintiffs' attorneys wrote: "In discussions that have extended into this evening, all but one of the named plaintiffs (who has been unavailable) have instructed counsel that they will not be pursuing individual damages claims against the NCAA," and the plaintiffs "have informed NCAA counsel this evening of that intention."
The NCAA's lawyers indicated in the joint statement that they were stunned by the change and they wrote that at trial they will seek dismissal with prejudice of all claims and attorneys' fees and costs as provided by law.
Wilken has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs before, and both a jury and bench trial could lead to a split ruling. The NCAA said it "vigorously objects" to the move against a jury trial. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs said his clients did so to keep the focus on the NCAA.
"The decision of the athletes was a selfless one in terms of keeping the focus on the enterprise known as the NCAA and forgoing any individual benefit they might have received," Michael Hausfield told USA Today.
The suit became a class action lawsuit late in 2013. On Monday, a Court of Appeals denied the NCAA's motion to delay the case.
In March, the plaintiffs and the NCAA entered court-ordered mediation. However, those discussions went nowhere. If and when the case goes to trial, NCAA President Mark Emmert will likely be named as a witness. Emmert has been the NCAA's public face about the issue of athlete compensation.
Could the lack of a jury trial also help tip the odds in the favor of the plaintiffs as well? After news of the unionization efforts of Northwestern players, an HBO Real Sports poll in March found that 75 percent of respondents were against a union for college players. A Washington Post poll showed a split amongst the general public on the union issue, but 64 percent of respondents were opposed to paying college athletes a salary.
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