The New York Times’ Joe Nocera thinks so, in two ways.
As the first case involving athletes fighting the N.C.A.A. to gain any traction in court, O’Bannon reaped an enormous amount of publicity. (It didn’t hurt that the lead plaintiff was a high-profile former N.C.A.A. champion who was eloquent and highly credible.) Reporters and others began to take a closer look at the N.C.A.A.’s rules and discovered what a small group of critics had been saying for years: Many of the rules were unfair, trivial and, in some cases, idiotic.
This increased scrutiny put the college sports establishment on the defensive. And it began to make changes, at least on the margins, to improve the lot of college athletes…
With regard to those changes, I don’t think there’s any question about the timing there, just about whether it’s a matter of correlation, which the NCAA would argue, or causation, which the plaintiffs (and, to be honest, I) would argue. It’s too convenient to insist that the schools would have proceeded exactly as they have over the past three years without the pressure from this case and the Northwestern unionization ruling.
Finally, the fact that the N.C.A.A. has been labeled an antitrust violator, thanks to O’Bannon, is no small thing. That leads to the second question: What comes now?
The answer is that two more cases, which are both being heard by Judge Wilken, are also aimed at overturning the N.C.A.A.’s amateurism rules. One is known as the Jenkins case; it argues that the N.C.A.A.’s compensation limits have no justification under antitrust law. The other is the Alston case, which seeks damages for all the years in which athletes weren’t compensated for the full cost of attendance, even though they were entitled to it, according to the O’Bannon ruling.
The fact that the N.C.A.A. has been branded an antitrust violator is hugely advantageous to the plaintiffs. The N.C.A.A. knows it, too, which is why it wanted the Supreme Court to take the O’Bannon case: in the hope that the court would overturn that antitrust label.
“I’ve always thought the O’Bannon result was more advantageous to us than it was to them,” Jeffrey Kessler, the lead lawyer in the Jenkins case, said on Monday. “Ultimately, unless the N.C.A.A. gets an antitrust exemption, competition is going to win out.”
In other words, in the absence of Congress stepping in and giving the schools an exemption, the sharks are still in the water. It’s also worth noting that with the Supreme Court declining to step in, only cases brought in the Ninth Circuit have a controlling appellate ruling. So there’s still plenty of fighting left to do. Will the NCAA continue to gird up and spend big money on lawyers and settlements, or will it decide to cut its losses and negotiate a sensible framework for all concerned?
Yeah, that was a rhetorical question.