Does O’Bannon leave a legacy?

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.


Filed under See You In Court, The NCAA

4 responses to “Does O’Bannon leave a legacy?

  1. ASEF

    The NCAA has put itself in an indefensible position, no question about that. And the people performing the task of disassembling that are doing necessary work.

    Doesn’t make them good people. Nocera relies on the fact that his editors and audience know little about college sports, and he gets a surprising amount of details wrong in a lot of his articles. He’s as lazy as the NCAA. He essentially slaps his name on Kessler and Hausfield press releases.

    And Kessler just got his clock cleaned by the NFL.

    But the NCAA empowers these idiots by being bigger idiots.

  2. We all know that some folks just love to continue digging an ever wider and deeper hole for themselves just to protect their ego and hardheadedness.

  3. 69Dawg

    NCAA has lots of money and they have a lot to lose, which equals keep on fighting. They need another circuit to find in their favor and then they can get the Supreme’s to take it. The law firms that are fighting for the players will run out of money before the NCAA. NCAA has now begun the war of attrition.

  4. The NCAA is going to do anything it can to protect the revenue stream that is March Madness. If they have to give up amateurism to do it, they’ll go kicking and screaming privately but publicly state they want what’s best for the student-athlete. If fighting the attorneys to the death is what will protect their stranglehold on that money, they’ll tell Kessler and others we’ll see you in court.

    Regardless, I hope Kessler burns the NCAA’s system down and gets Mark Emmert on the unemployment line as soon as possible.

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