Published: January 31, 2013
I’m as excited about the Super Bowl as anyone, and I’ll be in front of my television set before kickoff. But in the midst of the usual pre-Super Bowl hype, an interesting developing story has slipped the attention of many sports fans.
A federal court judge has ruled a group of former college football and basketball players may proceed with their lawsuit against the NCAA for a share of revenues from television broadcasts of college games.
Judge Claudia Wilken has set a hearing for June 20 on whether the Former College Athletes Association can be certified as a class for purposes of a class-action suit. If the case ultimately goes to a jury, that trial is slated for June 2014.
Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and his fellow litigants are seeking the right to negotiate for a cut of the billions of dollars that flow from TV games and licensing deals in which the athletes’ names and images are used, including video games.
The judge’s ruling is a setback for the NCAA, which had objected to the FCAA’s attempt to amend the suit to include money from live games as well as rebroadcasts. That would benefit current players.
Lest you think this is just a group of washed-up players who have washed out in life now reaching for a pot of gold, former NBA superstars Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson are among the plaintiffs.
Russell and Robertson don’t need the money. They believe there’s a principle involved.
Debate about whether college athletes are treated like slaves on the plantation has festered for decades.
Since they are not paid wages and have no agents to bargain on their behalf, their supporters argue they deserve a chunk of the big bucks generated by Division I NCAA sports.
Others maintain that the athletes’ “payment” comes in the form of scholarships and the college education they obtain in order to prepare them for the real world, regardless of whether they turn pro.
Apparently, some high rollers in the legal profession think the former collegians have a good chance of winning.
This lawsuit has been around since 2009 with more than a dozen law firms getting involved.
Collectively, the attorneys have sunk more than $20 million in legal fees into this gambit in hopes of reaping even larger bonanzas.
One of the lawyers involved is Ken Feinberg, the man who oversaw the distribution of nearly $7 billion to victims of the 9/11 attacks.
I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how this will turn out, but if this gaggle of ex-jocks and legal eagles can upset the well-heeled leviathan that is the NCAA, the aftershocks will be felt from college classrooms to NFL boardrooms.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled over-the-table play-for-pay football entertainment.