A federal judge on Friday denied motions by the NCAA that would delay trial on an antitrust suit by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon and others, ordering the trial to go forward next month in California.
Judge Claudia Wilken ordered a June 9 trial in Oakland on the antitrust lawsuit. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would allow Division I players the right to band together to sell their services in an open market.
If successful, the lawsuit could upend the NCAA's current model built upon the concept college athletes are amateurs and shouldn't be compensated beyond tuition and basic room and board.
"If this is a business -- which they admit it is -- it's got to run as a business in all aspects," said Michael Hausfeld, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "And a competitive business operating in open markets can't fix their cost of labor."
Wilken denied the last of the NCAA motions to delay the trial until February with a pair of rulings that went against the organization. At the same time, she set another trial for next March on claims by other athletes that the NCAA and videogame maker Electronic Arts misappropriated athlete names and likenesses for NCAA-branded videogames.
The NCAA said in a statement that it is ready for a trial that will focus strictly on the antitrust argument before the judge and not a jury in the wake of a decision earlier this month by plaintiffs to drop their demand for individual damages.
"Although the plaintiffs' eleventh-hour change in strategy has denied a jury the opportunity to decide the important issues in the O'Bannon litigation, we are prepared for trial and look forward to presenting our case to the judge," said Donald Remy, the NCAA's chief legal officer. "At the same time, we will continue to prepare for a jury trial in the Keller case that is scheduled for March."
A total of 20 former college athletes -- including such names as NBA All-Stars Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson -- are plaintiffs in the suit that seeks an injunction that could allow athletes to band together and sell their services to colleges, either in the form of pay or extra benefits the NCAA doesn't currently allow.
Hausfeld said one of the most significant features from the judge's decision is that she will allow evidence into the June 9 antitrust trial that speaks to issues related to the use of athlete likenesses in video games.
Some of the examples the plaintiffs have discovered that support their position are emails from NCAA officials that appear to show their intent to allow the use of specific athlete images in the video games created by Electronic Arts.
The trial comes at a time when so-called amateur athletics have exploded into billion-dollar enterprises, largely due to huge television contracts for major college football and basketball games and tournaments. At the same time the suit is coming to trial, the major conferences are moving to liberalize rules and add both money and medical and scholarship protections to college athletes.