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Lawsuit against NCAA to pay players gains new life

By Tim Dahlberg | 11/22/2013, 6 a.m.
Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon Jr. sits in his office in Henderson, Nev. O’Bannon is part of a lawsuit seeking revenue sharing for NCAA athletes.

(AP) - A lawsuit challenging the NCAA over payment of athletes isn’t going away soon.

The lead attorney for former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon said Wednesday his client will continue to pursue his suit against the NCAA, despite a ruling earlier this month that blocked an effort to expand it to a larger group of former athletes.

Michael Hausfeld said O’Bannon’s suit — tentatively set for a trial in June — would go forward both for damages to O’Bannon and to force colleges to give current players a cut of the billions of dollars earned from television contracts and ticket sales from major revenue sports.

Hausfeld also held out the possibility of other athletes joining in individual suits of their own in the wake of the federal court ruling that denied class action status to the plaintiffs — something that could have potentially put the NCAA on the hook for billions of dollars in damages.

“We’ve been contacted by scores of individuals who now want to bring their own claims,” Hausfeld said. “It’s generated a significant amount of interest.”

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Northern California ruled Nov. 8 that the suit could not be expanded to include thousands of former athletes, a ruling hailed by NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy as a win for his organization. Wilken said there was no way to determine which of the former players might have been harmed by NCAA rules that prohibit most payments to college athletes.

But the suit brought by O’Bannon and 15 other former and current college athletes demanding the NCAA find a way to give players a cut of the profits will go forward, and it still has the ability to drastically change the way the NCAA does business.

“It might make it less likely NCAA pays damages for past conduct but it leaves very open the possibility of substantial organization altering changes to the NCAA,” said Marc Edelman, an associate professor of law at City University of New York who specializes in sports and antitrust law. “There’s a possibility at the end of the day that college sports reverts to the way it operated prior to 1951 where the power to make decisions in commercial matters is addressed on the school and conference level.”

The legal action by O’Bannon — the star of the 1995 UCLA team that won the national championship — has already had an impact on the marketing of athletes in college sports. Video game producer EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Company agreed in September to a $40 million settlement for using images of former athletes in games and EA Sports said it would stop producing a college football video game.

O’Bannon said he was prompted to file the suit after seeing an image of himself playing as part of the UCLA team in a video game while he was at a friend’s house.

“They need to go away in my opinion,” O’Bannon said of the NCAA. “The world has changed, the economy has changed. Everything has changed except the rules and regulations the NCAA governs.”

Hausfeld said the case will move forward with a Feb. 20 hearing on a motion for summary judgment, and could go to trial as early as the scheduled June trial date. Remy said earlier the NCAA has no plans to enter into settlement talks on the merits of the suit.

In September, players from Georgia Tech, Georgia and Northwestern staged a silent protest against the way the NCAA operates by writing the letters APU — for All Players United — on their wristbands during games. The action was organized by the National College Players Association, an advocacy group that has pushed for athletes to receive more scholarship money and better health care.