Major college football and men's basketball student-athletes could be in line for paydays worth thousands of dollars once they leave school after a landmark ruling Friday that might change the way the NCAA does business.
A federal judge ruled that the NCAA can't stop players from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses, striking down NCAA regulations that prohibit players from getting anything other than scholarships and the cost of attendance at schools.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, in a 99-page decision that followed a contentious three-week trial in June, ruled in favor of former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and 19 others who sued the NCAA, claiming it violated antitrust laws by conspiring with the schools and conferences to block the athletes from getting a share of the revenues generated from the use of their images in broadcasts and video games. The injunction she issued allows players at big schools to have money generated by television contracts put into a trust fund to pay them when they leave.
"The Court finds that the challenged NCAA rules unreasonably restrain trade in the market for certain educational and athletic opportunities offered by NCAA Division I schools," Wilken wrote.
Wilken rejected the NCAA's arguments in defense of its economic model, saying the "justifications that the NCAA offers do not justify this restraint and could be achieved through less restrictive means" while preserving college sports competition.
In a partial victory for the NCAA, though, Wilken said it could set a cap on the money paid to athletes for use of their names, images or likenesses. However, ESPN.com legal analyst Lester Munson says that the injunction and the written opinion Wilken delivered are somewhat at odds.
In her injunction, Wilken writes that the NCAA is restrained from prohibiting an athlete from getting deferred compensation of $5,000 or less (currently, an athlete receives nothing). Munson said the injunction sets the figure as a $5,000 cap. However, in her 99-page opinion, the judge writes that the deferred compensation can't be less than $5,000. The ruling also states that individual schools could offer less money, she said, but only if they don't unlawfully conspire among themselves to set those amounts.
That means Football Bowl Subdivision players and Division I basketball players who are on rosters for four years potentially could get no less than $20,000 when they leave school. Wilken wrote that she set the $5,000 annual number to balance the NCAA's fears about huge payments to players. Munson says that lawyers on both sides are certain to ask for a clarification.
"The NCAA's witnesses stated that their concerns about student-athlete compensation would be minimized or negated if compensation was capped at a few thousand dollars per year," Wilken wrote.
The compensation will be paid into a trust fund. However, if a school does not try to sell anything with the players' names, images and likenesses, there will be no money to pay into the trust fund. A player then would be limited to his cost-of-attendance scholarship.