In perhaps what may be the biggest wage and hour class action in college sports, the trial of O’Bannon v. NCAA began this week. Through this trial, countless former college football and basketball players are seeking court intervention on the issue of whether college athletes have a right to receive the proceeds that come from multi-billion dollar television contracts signed by the conferences that universities play in.
Also at issue is the previously unfettered use of college athletes’ names, images and likenesses (NILs) in videogames. Because of the NCAA’s longstanding stance on amateurism, it has routinely sold the rights to televise games and use players’ images in videogames without paying players. It believes that paying them will destroy the notion of players being “student-athletes,” which usually cancels a student’s eligibility under NCAA rules. Even with this stance, the NCAA’s five largest conferences are rumored to have revised their rules and to allow some form of stipend for college athletes.
Should the O’Bannon class prevail, it could mean that the NCAA could be liable for paying retroactively thousands of football and basketball players. It could also be a seismic shift in how college athletes are compensated going forward. It is expected that witnesses for the NCAA will testify that paying athletes is not only a fundamentally bad idea, it may hurt the brand of college football because fans will not have the same level of interest in seeing athletes play at such a high level simply of love of the game.
Meanwhile, witnesses for the O’Bannon class are expected to testify about how athletes are routinely taken advantage of in the name of profits.
Source: MercuryNews.com “NCAA on trial: Former University of Alabama player testifies,” Howard Mintz, June 12, 2014