Jeffrey Kessler, a high-profile antitrust lawyer best known for bringing free agency to the NFL, is on the precipice of embarking on an endeavor that may bring similarly sweeping changes to college athletics.
Winston & Strawn LLP, a New York law firm where Kessler serves as a partner and member of the executive committee, is on the verge of starting a law firm to help those within college athletics recoup money the NCAA makes from television contracts, according to Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg.
The yet-to-be named branch won't just be representing players. It will represent NCAA member conferences, coaches and the schools themselves to protect against what Kessler calls “the unbridled power and influence” of college sports' governing body.
Kessler plans to focus particularly on the $16 billion the NCAA rakes in from television contracts. College football and college basketball—specifically the NCAA tournament—represent a lion's share of that sum.
“The NCAA should stand up and take notice that Jeff is involved,” Bob Lanza, a former National Basketball Association players’ union general counsel, told Bloomberg. “I can’t think of anybody more qualified to start this type of department.”
Although his speciality is in antitrust law, the 59-year-old Kessler has become a notable fixture in many disputes between sports unions and their league. He counts the NBAPA and NFLPA as clients and has worked with members of the NHLPA and MLBPA in the past.
Kessler was the main litigator for the NFLPA in McNeil v. NFL, the landmark case that opened free agency across the NFL. He also worked with the NFLPA during the 2011 lockout, serving as the primary litigator in Brady v. NFL. That antitrust case is regularly credited with catalyzing the end of the lockout.
Although there is no word on how close Winston & Strawn LLP are to creating this new branch, having such a high-profile attorney spearheading the cause could be yet another critical blow for the NCAA.
Donald Remy, the NCAA legal chief, told Steve Berkowitz of USA Today earlier this week that the organization had no interest in settling a case filed by former basketball player Ed O'Bannon and many other former and current athletes over the illegal use of their likeness. Co-defendants EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Co. settled their dispute with the former UCLA forward's team late last month.
“If players coming out of high school had some type of representation, or if somebody like Jeff initially made sure the players are represented in the right fashion, where both parties are happy with the deal, then a lot of this stuff wouldn’t even happen,” O’Bannon said.
It's unclear how Kessler plans on going about recouping compensation at this time. But it is clear that uncertain times for the NCAA just got a whole lot more disconcerting.
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