Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ed O'Bannon suing the NCAA

Last summer, we did a Where Are They Now? piece on Ed O'Bannon, the former UCLA standout turned Las Vegas car salesman.

I don't think anyone is going to be asking that question again anytime soon.

Yesterday, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports broke the story that Ed O'Bannon will be the lead plaintiff (on behalf of all current and former DI football and men's basketball players) in a class action lawsuit against the NCAA. The case centers around the fact that the NCAA can cash in on the likenesses, the accomplishments, and the memorabilia sales of former players (be it via video games, commercials, jersey sales, etc.) in perpetuity without those players seeing a dime.

Apparently, they have a case (for those better versed in legalese than I go read what Michael McMann has to say about the case at SI - he breaks everything down for you). I'm no lawyer, but I can tell you that when you are represented by a firm that won reparations for Holocaust survivors, price fixing cartels, and benefactors of slave labor, there is a good chance a large amount of money can be made.

Ed O'Bannon is the lead plaintiff in a case against the NCAA
involving their use of a players likeness after graduation.
(photo credit:

Do I need even need to mention how big of a deal this case is?

Seriously, think about what this covers - ESPN Classic replays; a Carmelo Anthony Syracuse jersey; those Pontiac game changing performance commercials; any copy of NCAA video games.

In fact, the video game is where the entire case originated. From the Wetzel article:
Last winter, Ed O'Bannon discovered that a couple of kids down the street didn't just know the star of the 1995 UCLA national championship team as a friend of their dad, a really tall neighbor or even as a guy who shows up on ESPN Classic every once in a while. They knew O’Bannon – his tendencies, his number 31, even the mechanics of his lefty jump shot – from playing a video game that featured classic college teams. "They literally played me on a video game," O'Bannon told Yahoo! Sports on Saturday. "You could play the '95 Bruins. It didn't have my name, but it had my number, left-handed, it looked like me. It was everything but the name. My friend kind of looked at me and said, 'you know what’s sad about this whole thing? You're not getting paid for it.' I was just like, 'wow, you're right.' It just kind of weighed on me."
An interesting side note to this case is that they are not pushing for athletes currently on scholarship to get paid; only that they players see a cut of the profits from collegiate licensed merchandise once they move on from the NCAA.

According to Wetzel, collegiate licensed merchandise is an estimated $4 billion industry. These are rough economic times for the NCAA and its member institutions, and if O'Bannon happens to prevail, the NCAA may be forced to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Don't cry for the NCAA. They make money hand over fist off of these kids while they are in school. OK, I get it, the NCAA is technically a non-profit organization and these kids are technically amateur athletes. While I may not completely agree with the current structure, I can tolerate it simply because I love the ideal of a "student-athlete" representing his school.

But why shouldn't former players like O'Bannon get a taste once their collegiate careers come to an end?

The guys over at RTC say it best:
Frankly, it’s about effin’ time. As Dan Wetzel poignantly notes in his article breaking the story today, the players are painted into a (legally unrepresented) corner at 17 or 18 years old when all they’re really worried about is getting their eligibility to play college sports. We understand why the NCAA doesn’t want its current players profiting off of their likenesses while an amateur, but why does the NCAA retain 100% of those rights for the rest of those players’ lives? Why does Texas Western profit off of 1966 jerseys of #14 Bobby Joe Hill, but not the player (or the estate in Hill’s case) some 40+ years later? Same thing with Jerry Rice’s MVSU #88 jersey? Or, as O’Bannon stated in his complaint, why doesn’t he see a dime for an EA Sports video game licensed by the NCAA that clearly shows his silky smooth left-handed collegiate “self” running around making shots and ripping down rebounds as a 1995 UCLA Bruin? It’s absolutely ludicrous, and we’d really like to see the NCAA take it on the chin this time around.
One last note - O'Bannon explains his rationale for becoming the lead plaintiff over at Lost Letterman.

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