Skip to content

This week is a very important week for Ed O’Bannon’s case against the NCAA

Jun 20, 2013, 8:25 AM EDT

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

Ever since Ed O’Bannon first filed a lawsuit against the NCAA over the use of his likeness in a video game back in 2009, there has been scuttlebutt that the outcome of said lawsuit could end up playing a major role in the way that college athletics operates at the highest level in the near future.

(For those that haven’t been paying attention, you can get some terrific background insight into the lawsuit from Brad Wolverton’s story in The Chronicle here. You might also want to give J. Brady McCollough’s feature on Sonny Vaccaro, the former shoe peddler turned amateur athlete advocate, who, along with O’Bannon, is the inspiration behind the case.)

This week may be the most important week for the case, as U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken will hear arguments regarding whether or not the case can be certified as a class action lawsuit on Thursday in Oakland. If the case were to be certified to include current athletes, it would mean that “the NCAA would be liable for claims brought not just by the plaintiffs but also by all former athletes,” Bloomberg’s Jonathan Mahler wrote back in May. “Anyone who has ever played a Division I college sport would instantly be suing for damages for every instance in which his or her image was used in a video game, highlight reel, broadcast or rebroadcast.”

That could spell out disaster for the NCAA, who has a 14-year contract worth more than $10 billion with CBS and Turner to broadcast the NCAA tournament and whose member conferences annually cut $20 million checks to each member school for their TV contracts.

With that much money being tossed around, it’s a logical leap that the O’Bannon case could end up changing the NCAA’s entire business model, right?

Well, maybe we need to pump the brakes here just a bit. From a blog that Wolverton published accompanying the story linked above:

Gary R. Roberts, dean of Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, went further, describing some of the predictions as a “preposterous stretch of the intellectual-property laws.”

“I don’t see why, if the NCAA is infringing on former players’ publicity rights in the production of video games, that would lead to a remedy of current players receiving TV rights,” he said. “There are people who want that to happen so much that they’ve convinced themselves it’s right. But I don’t think there’s any court that will jump that legal chasm.”

Other legal scholars, whose voices didn’t make it in my article, agreed.

“Maybe in five years O’Bannon will cause the entire NCAA infrastructure to come unglued, but I doubt it,” said Gene Marsh, a retired professor of law at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa who represents colleges in NCAA disputes. “The thing about sports litigation—and particularly anything related to the NCAA—is that you get this wave of wishful thinking and emotion, and then someone comes along and actually applies the law, and that takes the air out of the balloon.”

In simpler terms, we’ve all gotten so excited about the fact that someone is actually stepping up to the plate and challenging the NCAA that we’ve forgotten all the legalistic red-tape the case needs to wind its way through.

And just because there’s a movement of people that are emotional and passionate about changing the basis of the NCAA doesn’t mean a federal judge who has been trained to filter out emotion and passion and focus on the letter of the law is going to agree.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Latest Posts
  1. Rick Barnes is considering an offer from Tennessee

    Mar 31, 2015, 1:47 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Barnes spent the last 17 seasons at Texas.

  2. UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland, all No. 1 seeds, advance to women’s Final Four

    Mar 30, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT

    Brianna Turner AP

    UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland make up the 2015 women’s Final Four.

  3. Sources: Johnathan Williams III expected to transfer from Missouri

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:24 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Williams was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Tigers this season.

  4. Nebraska forward giving up basketball for senior season

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Nebraska forward Walter Pitchford is giving up basketball for his senior season.

  5. Xavier sophomore guard will transfer

    Mar 30, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT

    Parker Wentz, Brandon Randolph AP

    Xavier is losing a reserve guard to transfer.

  6. Reports: Chris Mullin is the new head coach at St. John’s

    Mar 30, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Chris Mullin will get a chance to restore glory at St. John’s.

  7. George Mason hires Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen

    Mar 30, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    George Mason makes a move to hire a new head coach.

  8. 2015 NCAA Tournament All-Second Weekend Team

    Mar 30, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Who were the best players in the second-weekend of the NCAA tournament?

  9. Dan Patrick Show: Tom Izzo talks Final Four, facing Coach K

    Mar 30, 2015, 3:07 PM EDT

    Michigan State earned its Final Four spot Sunday (AP Photo) Michigan State earned its Final Four spot Sunday (AP Photo)

    Izzo became the first coach to lead three teams seeded No. 5 or lower to the Final Four.

  10. Damion Lee to graduate, transfer from Drexel

    Mar 30, 2015, 2:41 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Lee will be a priority target during the offseason.

  11. While a major question remains unanswered, No. 4 North Carolina can be special in 2015-16

    Mar 30, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    The Tar Heels should return every piece to its rotation next season, but what happens with the NCAA inquiry will have an impact as well.

  12. Dan Patrick Show: Sam Dekker talks Wisconsin’s return to Final Four

    Mar 30, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Dekker was the best player in the second weekend of the event.

  13. The AP released their All-American teams on Monday

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:42 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    There isn’t anything all that wrong with the AP’s list. The first team is perfect.

  14. 2015 NCAA Tournament: Final Four betting lines, Vegas odds

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:19 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    If you need to place a bet, here are the lines you’ll be working with.

  15. Reports: Jeff Neubauer hired as next Fordham head coach

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:46 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Neubauer was with Eastern Kentucky for 10 years and John Beilein for nine seasons before that.

  16. Tournament darling R.J. Hunter is heading to the NBA

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:05 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    R.J. Hunter and his father/coach became a sensation during the tournament.