© 2024 WUTC
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Judge OKs Lawsuit That Could Change NCAA Amateurism Concept

A federal judge on Friday issued a ruling that may cause a "fundamental change in scholarship rules and the concept of amateurism" in NCAA basketball and football, USA Today reports.

The ruling is mixed and fairly complex. In essence, it allows NCAA players to bring class action lawsuits against companies using their likeness. That could include video game companies and television networks that transmit their games. The judge, however, rejected a request for former players to bring the same kind of suits.

USA Today reports both sides claimed victory:

" 'We have long maintained that the plaintiffs in this matter are wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. This ruling is one step closer to validating that position,' the NCAA's chief legal officer, Donald Remy, said in a statement. 'We are pleased that the court correctly found that conducting a class-wide trial for claimed damages for student-athletes who played college football and men's basketball going back nearly a decade would be completely unmanageable and unprecedented. The plaintiffs in this case were seeking substantial damages based on erroneous theories for maintaining a class. The court correctly removed these claims from this case.'

"Lawyers for the plaintiffs were extremely pleased with the ruling. The firm of one of the lead plaintiffs' attorneys, Michael Hausfeld, issued a news release headlined, 'Judge Permits Historic Case Against the NCAA to Proceed as a Class Action.'

"In the release, Hausfeld said: 'The court's decision is a victory for all current and former student-athletes who are seeking compensation on a going forward basis. While we are disappointed that the court did not permit the athletes to seek past damages as a group, we are nevertheless hopeful that the court's decision will cause the NCAA to reconsider its business practices.' "

As Sports Illustrated explains, student athletes are not allowed to be paid for playing. Instead, they accept scholarships. This ruling in the lawsuit led by former University of California, Los Angeles, basketball player Ed O'Bannon could fundamentally change that and it creates incentives for both sides to seek a settlement.

Sports Illustrated explains:

"Sources close to the litigation insist the two sides have not engaged in settlement talks and are essentially in a cold war. The absence of talks to date is not surprising. Until tonight, neither side could reasonably predict the economics of the case. Neither knew if the number of plaintiffs was a handful or tens of thousands and neither knew which claims a class could bring against the NCAA. They now have more information and can better forecast whether the case carries the risk of tens of millions, hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

"There are two remaining potential obstacles to settlement talks. First is whether the NCAA is on firm ground to enter into settlement talks on behalf of its member schools and conferences. In recent months, conference commissioners have expressed frustration with NCAA policies and leadership. Expect the NCAA to receive renewed pressure from conference commissioners, college presidents and athletic directors to seek a settlement with O'Bannon prior to trial. A settlement would allow the NCAA and its member schools to negotiate new amateurism rules, rather than risk a new system designed by a federal judge and 12 jurors."

CBS News reports this follows a September settlement reached by NCAA players and EA Sports, in which the video game company agreed to pay $40 million to 125,000 athletes.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.