Judge rules against NCAA in Ed O’Bannon case

A federal judge has ruled that the NCAA can’t stop college football and basketball players from selling the rights to their names and likenesses, opening the way to athletes getting payouts once their college careers are over.

In a landmark decision issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others in a lawsuit that challenged the NCAA’s regulation of college athletics on antitrust grounds.

In a partial victory for the NCAA, though, Wilken said the NCAA could set a cap on the money paid to athletes, as long as it allows at least $5,000 a year for big school football and basketball players.

Wilken was not asked to rule on the fairness of a system that pays almost everyone but the athletes themselves. Instead, the case was centered on federal antitrust law and whether the prohibition against paying players promotes the game of college football and does not restrain competition in the marketplace.

The plaintiffs gave up their right to damages in a pretrial move that meant the case would be heard only by the judge and not a jury. But even without monetary damages for former players the case was a battle over hundreds of millions of dollars in television contracts that attorneys for the plaintiffs said should be shared with the athletes.

In a scathing post trial brief, they argued that the NCAA basically staked its defense on a 1984 Supreme Court decision that said the fundamental rule of amateurism was at the core of the NCAA’s regulation of college athletics and that the organization could have suggested other remedies to help athletes to justify its control of college sports.

Attorneys for the NCAA, said moving away from the concept of amateurism would drive spectators away from college sports and would upset the competitive balance among schools and conferences. They said some of the relief sought by the plaintiffs would allow for third parties to pay players and that universities would lose control of their programs.

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