Judge Says College Athletes Have Rights

The failure to compensate big school college athletes has always been about worker fairness and, arguably,  race discrimination.

Now a federal judge has cut through the propaganda by ruling that the National Collegiate Athletic Association violated federal anti-trust law by prohibiting schools and conferences from paying players for the rights to their names, images and likenesses.

It is an important –  albeit partial  -victory for big school basketball and football players.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken  permitted institutions to set a $5,000 cap per year on the money paid to big school football and basketball players and ordered the payments to be placed in trust, payable upon the expiration of the athlete’s athletic eligibility or graduation, whichever comes first.

Wilken said the cap is necessary to address NCAA concerns. “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.

Former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others sued the NCAA for violating  antitrust laws by conspiring with the schools and conferences to block student athletes from getting a share of the revenues generated from the use of their images in broadcasts and video games.

“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 said the “justifications that the NCAA offers do not justify this restraint and could be achieved through less restrictive means” while preserving college sports competition.

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.

The NCAA made $912.8 million in 2012-2013,  of which 84 percent  came from one, three-week event, the Division I men’s basketball tournament. Meanwhile, colleges and universities also make millions from the sale of branded athletic gear and  sports memorabilia featuring the likenesses of sports teams and players. The elite student athletes who make all of this possible –  the vast majority of whom are African-American – get what some have described as slave wages. Their payment is limited to scholarships to cover the cost of tuition, fees, room and board, books, certain school supplies, tutoring, and academic support services.

For decades,  debate has raged over the corrupting influence of big school athletics in education, as well as the failure to share the millions raised through the work of student athletes.

The ruling came in the case of  O’Bannon v. NCAA, Electronic Arts Inc. and College Licensing Co., No. C 09-3329 CW (2014  No. CA District).

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