Just a few days ago, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken provided a ruling on Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA for having profited off of his image and did so by partially certifying the lawsuit. Her partial certification allows for players to challenge the NCAA for future compensation but denies players that may have been wronged by anti-trust law the opportunity to sue for past damages in a group, as Ed O’Bannon and 19 other athletes did. They must do so individually. In a statement released by the players’ attorney, Michael Hausfeld, triumph was the prevailing sentiment. “The court’s decision is a victory for all current and former student-athletes seeking compensation on a going forward basis,” said Hausfeld “While we are disappointed that the court did not permit the athletes to seek past damages as a group, we are nevertheless hopeful that the court’s decision will cause the NCAA to reconsider its business practices.” In this sense, the NCAA escaped unscathed. As players can no longer pursue these damages together via the legal system, the NCAA no longer has to deal with massive groups of players joining forces to earn reparations as O’Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs did.
The victory for the student-athlete lies in this aspect of the case: In partially certifying the case, Judge Wilken essentially certified a class action against the NCAA rules preventing players from engaging in group licensing deals. In doing so, she has taken a long step towards letting players get paid. In professional sports, player associations negotiate with card companies and video game manufacturers for the utilization of their images and likenesses. Current NCAA regulations restrict student-athletes, whether they are acting in a group or individually, from entering into such contracts, something which O’Bannon viewed as a violation of anti-trust laws as he believes that the NCAA and licensing companies are a conjoined force in preventing players from doing so. O’Bannon believes that these deals would lead to increased competition within the sport, as players would now be able to strike broadcast agreements, licensing agreements and more. Adhering to this principle as the driving force behind sports, Judge Wilken deemed this notion as reasonable, as O’Bannon had gone so far as to define this competition as a choice which would result in more variety, faster innovation, and cheaper prices that would only benefit consumers.
As the recent ruling is legally indicative of the flawed nature of that NCAA rule, such deals would no longer be prohibited. This, in turn, would set the stage for the rise a college players’ association, as the student-athletes would require representation when negotiating these contracts with licensing companies. This would financially harm the NCAA, as they would now be forced to share the wealth with the players. Although they won’t have to pay any reparations or damages for violations in the past, the NCAA is set to take a large financial hit, one that would only benefit players and fans alike. While this might seem a long way off, the Wilken’s ruling ensured that it was no longer just a wild fantasy. Her decision, although denying groups of players the right to sue the NCAA, allows for the individual player to be compensated should they be able to prove that the NCAA profits off of their name, image, or likeness. This ruling likens college sports to professional sports, and increases competition throughout the collegiate sphere. O’Bannon has opened up a new realm of possibilities for the college athlete, paving the way for the student-athlete to earn a reward for the services that they render their schools.