By Ken Reed

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the NCAA was unfairly and illegally limiting athletes’ right to make money off their names, images and likenesses in a Friday ruling in the Ed O’Bannon case. In effect, Wilkins ruled that forcing big-time football and basketball programs to all offer the same form of compensation to athletes is a form of collusion which allows the NCAA to operate as a cartel. Wilkins further concluded that disallowing payments to college athletes violated antitrust laws. More specifically, she issued an injunction against long-time NCAA rules that prohibit athletes from earning money from the use of their names, images and likenesses in video games and television broadcasts. As such, Wilken’s ruling was a huge victory for college athletes on civil rights and antitrust grounds.

“Before the court in this case is only whether the NCAA violates antitrust law by agreeing with its member schools to restrain their ability to compensate Division I men’s basketball and FBS football players any more than the current association rules allow,” Wilken wrote in her ruling. “For the reasons set forth above, the court finds that this restraint does violate antitrust law.”

So, under the ruling, athletes in Division I football and men’s basketball will be allowed to have trust funds established for payments that they can access after their college eligibility ends.

William Isaacson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called Wilken’s ruling “a big step forward for common decency.”

Nevertheless, there also were troubling and confusing aspects to Wilken’s ruling. Wilkins stopped short of allowing an open market for players and she said that players still can’t market themselves. There are also questions remaining about exactly how much athletes will be allowed to receive. Wilkins ruled that the NCAA can cap payments to football and men’s basketball players as long as the cap isn’t less than $5,000 a year for every year an athlete plays. Additionally, the NCAA can’t prevent schools from giving “full cost of attendance” scholarships to athletes.

The NCAA will undoubtedly appeal this ruling — and the players might do the same, due to potential limits on the dollar amounts of payments and restraints on their ability to market themselves.

There will be plenty of questions on how much college athletes will actually be able to receive and when. However, the big outcome of this ruling is that current NCAA restrictions preventing college athletes from receiving money for use of their names, images and likenesses (NIL) violate antitrust law.

At this point, this ruling is another step forward for college athletes looking to have the same rights as fellow students and fellow Americans in general.

I think it’s safe to say that college athletics will be changed forever following this ruling, even though this case will likely be in the appeals process for a long time.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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