Game changer

The settlement ultimately went through; the judge who approved it described the deal as "truly one-of-a-kind, and a remarkable victory for the class as a whole." The original players continued to oppose it; more than 2,000 retired players ultimately opted out. No one has been paid, including Hausfeld, while the case is appealed.

DeLamielleure has kept a diary since 1983, and after the Minneapolis meeting he wrote: "I feel like I need a shower." Mitchell escorted Joe D back to the airport in a van. "I don't want to be used anymore," he told Mitchell. "I'm done." DeLamielleure hasn't talked to Hausfeld since.

"I felt bad because they used me to bring in a lot of guys," DeLamielleure said. "This was all manipulated to get the lawyers their money."

Bethea said he has some advice for any athlete who comes in contact with Hausfeld: "Run!"

FIVE YEARS AFTER entering the sports field, Hausfeld LLP is still waiting for its big payday -- or any payday, for that matter. Its greatest hope evaporated this year when the judge in the O'Bannon suit rejected the request for players to pursue damages as a class, which would have allowed them as a group to tap into billions of dollars from past TV revenues. At that point, the case became about changing the system. For a plaintiff's lawyer, the incentive to keep spending money and time on the case was greatly diminished.

Win, and all you get are your fees paid. Lose, you get nothing.

"He easily could have said, 'We didn't get it, good luck,'" O'Bannon says. "But he didn't. That's why I love the guy."

But there are ways Hausfeld could still profit, some less obvious than others. Beyond the more than $15 million he says the NCAA would have to repay his firm in billable hours and fees, he also could play a role in the business of college athletics, should the courts rule in his favor. In 2011, he registered a new organization, the Former College Athletes Association, with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in Washington. Its address was listed as 1700 K St., the headquarters for Hausfeld LLP.

From its creation, the exact nature and composition of the FCAA has been something of a mystery. The intent is to collect licensing revenue for players after their college careers, says Feinberg, who is helping organize the entity and, along with Vaccaro and Huma, was a founding board member. Hausfeld says he set up the FCAA as a vehicle for a potential settlement in the O'Bannon case, in case the NCAA agreed to distribute licensing revenue to athletes. He acknowledges that the organization could be used to market current college athletes should the regulations change. Hausfeld wants to be the FCAA's lawyer, which could put him in position to negotiate everything from TV contracts with ESPN to gaming agreements with EA Sports. "What the FCAA is saying is, 'We will go out and get enough of the athletes to create a critical mass so that if someone wants a group license we can deliver it,'" he says.

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