Judge Rules NCAA Athletes Can Pursue TV Generated Revenue

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2013

A federal judge has ruled against a motion from the NCAA barring football and men's basketball athletes from claiming a cut of past and present television revenue.

Tom Farrey of ESPN.com reported the judge's decision Tuesday. It's important to point out that Judge Claudia Wilkens' ruling doesn't mean that the athletes will receive any money yet. However, here's what the ramifications could be:

"Now the (NCAA and its co-defendants) are facing potential liability that's based on the billions of dollars in revenue instead of tens or hundreds of millions," said Michael Hausfeld, interim lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "It's a more accurate context for what the players deserve."

Ed O'Bannon was the first to lead the antitrust suit. O'Bannon was a star basketball player for the UCLA Bruins, winning the Wooden Award and national championship in 1995.

His suit had originally been about compensating college athletes for archival footage. It has since been amended to include those athletes still in school. That was the point of contention for the NCAA.

Farrey quoted NCAA general counsel Donald Remy:

Although our motion to strike was denied, the judge has signaled skepticism on plaintiff's class-certification motion and recognized the plaintiffs' radical change in their theory of the case. This is a step in the right direction toward allowing the NCAA to further demonstrate why this case is wrong on the law and that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that this case satisfies the criteria for class litigation.

According to the ESPN report, more than a dozen law firms help represent the plaintiffs, and they have invested over $20 million in legal fees since beginning the suit back in 2009.

This could potential be a landmark decision for college athletes. The line between college and pro athletes continues to be blurred, and there's no sign of the issue slowing down anytime soon.

If the suit is successful, the plaintiff's team of lawyers has set up the Former College Athletes Association (FCAA) to negotiate licenses with the NCAA, member colleges, video game and media companies to collect and distribute the money the athletes are owed.

With the gargantuan amounts of money in college sports, especially college football, it's getting harder and harder for the NCAA to argue that athletes don't deserve more forms of compensation beyond what currently exists.

If football and men's basketball athletes are entitled to television revenue, it could open the floodgates for athletes and would go beyond the money the NCAA would have to dish out per O'Bannon's suit. It would be a sea of change from the way college sports are in the present.

The issue is far from resolved, and it will be interesting to see how it develops.