The Chronicle asked three legal experts to read the 99-page ruling handed down by a federal judge on Friday in the Ed O’Bannon case. The ruling, by Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., would give big-time NCAA football and basketball players the chance to profit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses. If the decision stands on appeal, it would upend the association’s amateurism model.
The experts—Gabe Feldman, an associate law professor at Tulane University and director of its sports law program; Matthew Mitten, a law professor at Marquette University and director of its Sports Law Institute; and Gary R. Roberts, an emeritus dean of the law school at Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus—highlighted sections that they believe have significance in the case.
Breaking With Precedent
Gabe Feldman writes: Although courts and commentators have recognized that much has changed in college sports since—and in part because of—the 1984 Board of Regents case [NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (468 U.S. 85)], federal courts have consistently relied on that Supreme Court precedent to give great deference to NCAA restrictions on student-athletes designed to protect and promote amateurism.
Although some courts have narrowed the class of student-athlete restrictions that implicate amateurism, the Seventh Circuit was clear in the 2012 Agnew [Joseph Agnew, et al., v. National Collegiate Athletic Association] case that the NCAA is entitled to deference with respect to restraints on student-athletes that promote the "revered tradition of amateurism in college sports."
Despite the explosion of college sports over the past 30 years, most courts to address the issue have continued to rely on Board of Regents to adopt a similarly deferential approach.
Judge Wilken’s decision departed from the majority of case law by both questioning the basic concept of NCAA amateurism and concluding that the longstanding deference to amateurism requirements announced in Board of Regents was inappropriate, even in cases directly involving compensation to student-athletes.
Matthew Mitten writes: On balance, this is a pretty thoughtful opinion by the judge. She clearly recognizes the conflicting aspects of college sports and is quite careful to issue a fairly narrow opinion addressing this specific restraint, while providing some pretty telling clues as to how she is likely to resolve the other NCAA antitrust cases before her.
She enjoins the NCAA from enforcing its rule because it's the product of an anticompetitive agreement among NCAA schools and there's a less-restrictive means of achieving its legitimate procompetitive objectives. She says it will be up to individual schools to decide whether to share licensing revenues with football and basketball players, but doesn't require them to do so.
She prohibits the NCAA from sanctioning schools that offer a share of licensing revenues to their athletes and declaring athletes ineligible if they receive them.
One thing that stood out to me was the judge recognizing that a restriction on "large payments" while players are in school may be necessary to prevent a reduction in the popularity of big-time football and basketball and the educational aspect of college sports.
She rules that limiting the value of the stipend they can receive while in school to the full cost of education and the amount they can receive thereafter (i.e., at least $5,000 for each year academically eligible) is a reasonable restriction consistent with antitrust law.
Gary Roberts writes: This decision was very well-written, and Judge Wilken was very skillful in making her case. But there is a lot of illogic in trying to understand the antitrust violation she found in relation to the remedy she has crafted.
She did not find a violation with respect to the NCAA’s not allowing players or former players to sell their name-and-image rights, which was what this case was about. She found a violation in the capping of player compensation, which goes to the heart of what the NCAA system of amateurism is all about.
And the remedy does not logically follow from what she found to be a violation. She crafted a trust-fund remedy based on finding a violation that was not what these plaintiffs were complaining about.