Antitrust Trial Against NCAA Begins
A trial seeking to open the door for college athletes to profit from their fame is underway in California.
20 ex-college athletes led by former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon sued the NCAA five years ago, contending the Indianapolis-based organization is violating antitrust law by forcing players to sign over the legal rights to their likenesses.
Gary native Harry Flournoy was a forward on the Texas Western team which shattered college basketball's color line by winning the 1966 championship with an all-black starting five against a segregated Kentucky squad. Two players from each team have joined the lawsuit. Flournoy says he sees the suit as a second chance to correct an injustice. He says the NCAA reaps billions of dollars from marketing and repackaging its football and basketball games, while the players don't see a penny.
Indianapolis basketball legend Oscar Robertson and Alex Gilbert , the center on the Larry Bird-led Indiana State team which went to the national championship game, are also part of the suit. The suit notes the NCAA sells DVD's and streaming video of Robertson's title runs with the University of Cincinnati and the Texas Western and Indiana State Final Four games, with streaming video of Robertson's tournament matchups with California, Kansas and Kansas State selling for $150 a pop.
The suit notes the Indiana State-Michigan State championship game pitting Bird against Magic Johnson still pops up on ESPN Classic and the Big Ten network, and is sold on DVD through the NCAA and CBS Sports websites. The suit notes Robertson has continued to appear on trading cards long after his playing career, including cards sold with tiny swatches of his old Cincinnati jerseys.
The NCAA has argued athletes receive compensation through their scholarships. Flournoy argues coaches and athletic directors have shown that's a hollow enticement by steering players into classes whose main purpose is to keep their grades high enough to maintain their eligibility. And he points out scholarships aren't guaranteed -- a player can lose his scholarship if a coach lands a recruit considered a better prospect.
As the trial was beginning, the NCAA announced a separate $20 million settlement of a second suit specifically challenging the use of players’ likenesses in video games.