from AAJ Newsbrief
In a 1,500-word feature, the Los Angeles Times (6/20, Wharton, 692K) offers a preview of today’s hearing in the O’Bannon lawsuit, a case challenging the idea of amateurism in college sports. The judge “must decide if thousands of current and former college players can join as plaintiffs in what would become a class-action suit,” which could then “potentially chang[e] the business of Saturday afternoon football games and March Madness.” The Times notes, “Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany filed a legal declaration stating that changes to the current system might force his member schools to ‘downsize the scope, breadth and activity of their athletic programs,’ shifting to a model that resembles the smaller, less glamorous Division III”; however, “some experts believe there is enough money to spread around.” The article states that it is not clear whether the judge would hear oral arguments or make a decision on Thursday and quotes a variety of academics and university officials on both sides of the issue. “The simple, straightforward truth is that the NCAA has never licensed student-athlete likenesses,” said NCAA executive vice president and general counsel Donald Remy.
USA Today (6/19, Berkowitz, 1.71M) adds, “Lawyers involved with the case are not anticipating that she will issue a ruling Thursday, but her questions and reactions to each side’s arguments may provide hints about her thinking on two separate, but related, issues: the immediate legal requirements for class certification and the broader merits of the plaintiffs’ case.”
The New York (NY) Times (6/20, B12, Eder, Bishop, Subscription Publication, 1.68M) reports that in 2008, “N.C.A.A. executives, in private communications, opposed any notion that college football and basketball players should get a cut of the profits.” According to the Times, “A review of numerous e-mails sent by N.C.A.A. officials and video game executives suggests that the N.C.A.A. has long had a goal of ensuring it makes as much money as possible while doing everything it can to keep students from being paid,” but the NCAA “disputes that video game avatars and live broadcasts of games have violated athletes’ rights.” The Times prints a number of internal NCAA emails between executives to make its point before quoting Remy as saying, “It is a healthy dialogue that occurred in the organization.”
In a separate story, USA Today (6/20, Berkowitz, 1.71M) reports, “Video game manufacturer Electronic Arts went to great lengths to make sure the avatars in its college football and college basketball games resembled actual student-athletes, and high-ranking NCAA officials knew about, and approved of, the practice, lawyers for the plaintiffs in an anti-trust suit against EA, the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Co., wrote in portions of documents unsealed Wednesday night.” The information, made public the day before a hearing in the case, came from “portions of documents that originally were filed in a redacted form in late April.” The article states that “NCAA spokesman Bob Williams could not be reached for immediate comment.”
In a column for Sports Illustrated (6/19, 3.21M), Michael McCann offers a case primer, including a “comprehensive breakdown of where the case stands in advance of Thursday’s hearing.” Notably, McCann writes, “Although she would not acknowledge this, Wilken may have already made up her mind on certification after reading written materials submitted by both sides. In that case, she would use Thursday’s hearing to test her conclusions.” However, he also writes that U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken has an “even-handed” reputation, although she “usually certifies classes.” McCann states that Sports Illustrated analyzed her 29 orders of class certification, finding she only denied it six times, or 21 percent. Partial certification was granted five times, with full certification being granted 18 times.
In a separate Sports Illustrated (6/19, 3.21M) column, Andy Staples examines what is at stake in the hearing. For Staples, “The immediate answer is: nothing. Wilken probably won’t issue a ruling until later this summer on whether to certify the class.” Staples says that the case will not end college sports, no matter the outcome. “In the real world, people don’t simply walk away from multibillion-dollar businesses. In most of the potential outcomes, the NCAA will continue to operate in a fashion similar to the way it operates now. Even in the complete nightmare scenario for the NCAA, some organization will still exist to govern major college sports,” he writes.
A separate New York (NY) Times (6/20, B14, Bishop, Subscription Publication, 1.68M) story profiles other key figures in the lawsuit, including Sonny Vaccaro, who said, “June 20 is the most important day in amateur athletics history.” According to the Times, “Vaccaro has become a key figure in the lawsuit, one of several whose roles have evolved along with the case.” Other people mentioned as playing a key role include Harry Flournoy and Sam Keller, former student-athletes who, according to the Times, believe they should be compensated for images that resemble their likeness.
Columnist Nathan Fenno, in the Washington (DC) Times (6/20, 76K), writes, “Before competing, each athlete must sign a “Student-Athlete Statement” to be kept on file for six years. No negotiation. No option not to sign. The statement affirms, among other things, that the NCAA owns the rights to the athlete’s name and image. Bylaw 12.5.” Fenno continues on to criticize the system of amateurism in college sports.
In an opinion piece for ESPN (6/20), Tom Farrey writes, “Lost in the finger-pointing is the fact that the collective storm of crises confronting the NCAA today was inevitable.” According to Farrey, the issue stems from a boon in commercialization brought about by the 1984 Supreme Court ruling in the Board of Regents vs. NCAA case. “If the 1984 case was settled differently, we wouldn’t have these issues,” said Gary Roberts, law school dean at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and a former NCAA faculty rep. “The NCAA wanted to limit commercialization of college basketball and football to one game a week, and one network. If that lid had been kept on, we wouldn’t have the unleashed commercialization we see today.”