The time has come in Ed O’Bannon's class action, antitrust case against the NCAA when lawyers start nibbling their fingernails, those in charge of athletic departments feel their heartbeats climb and athletes try to get a grip on how things will change if their side prevails.
The first week of the trial had attorneys for the plaintiffs arguing and presenting witnesses who suggested that athletes in big-time programs should be compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses.
Now the NCAA's lawyers will make their presentation in U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken’s courtroom, claiming that college athletes are different from those on professional teams and their amateur status should be preserved.
The case, which was filed in 2009 and is being heard in Oakland, California, is expected to last about three weeks before the judge, and not a jury, hands down a decision. It will be a ruling that some have long sought and others have long feared.
So-called power conferences, which have prospered from lucrative television and marketing contracts, now find themselves defending an arrangement that enriches almost everyone except for those who play the games.
That situation is at the heart of the O’Bannon case. Years after the star basketball player left UCLA, his likeness is still featured in video games that benefit his university, but not him. Like every other college athlete, O’Bannon signed away his rights to future proceeds in exchange for a scholarship that included room, board, tuition and books.
Most courtroom observers think the NCAA is fighting a losing cause, especially when coaches like Alabama’s Nick Saban and Kentucky’s John Calipari are paid about $7 million annually, universities build athletic superstructures, and players don’t receive scholarships equal to the full cost of attending college. There’s just no way to defend a practice like that.