U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken may have significantly altered the fate of future college athletes by ruling against the NCAA this week in a long-standing lawsuit over the likeness rights of student-athletes.
Wilken decided that the NCAA’s rules, specifically in regard to “prohibiting student-athletes from receiving any compensation for the use of their names, images, and likenesses,” were in violation of the Sherman Act. Therefore, she issued an injunction against the NCAA, prohibiting it from disallowing member schools to offer full-cost-of-attendance scholarships and a “limited share of licensing revenue in trust” for Football Bowl Subdivision and Division I basketball players, capped at $5,000 for each year in which the student-athletes remain academically eligible.
The suit, brought about by O’Bannon, a former basketball player at the University of California-Los Angeles, challenged the NCAA’s ability to generate revenue off players’ likenesses and images without sharing a cut with said players. The NCAA has long argued that to protect the ideals of “amateurism"—a term which proved contentious in this particular case—student-athletes must not be paid anything more than a scholarship for their athletic services.
During testimony, the NCAA claimed that restricting compensation for student-athletes “increase[d] consumer interest in FBS football and Division I basketball,” relying upon a survey that found 69 percent of the general public in 2013 to be opposed to paying student-athletes. Thirty-eight percent said they would be less likely to “watch, listen to, or attend games” if student-athletes received $20,000 per year, while 47 percent said the same if student-athletes were paid $50,000 annually.
Wilken wasn’t fully convinced by this survey, however, saying that it fell short of credibly proving the NCAA’s point about limited compensation driving interest. Multiple testimonies throughout the trial, including from former NCAA president Walter Byers, current NCAA president Mark Emmert, and Christine Plonsky, an associate athletics director at the University of Texas, all backed up the point that consumer interest in NCAA athletics is
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.