NCAA Put On Defensive With Another Lawsuit

Following up on Sam Keller’s videogame lawsuit against the NCAA and Electronic Arts is former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, who filed a class action antitrust lawsuit yesterday against the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Company.

Keller’s lawsuit clearly alleges that likenesses can be used in video games without using names or faces. O’Bannon’s suit does a good job at pointing out hypocritical words on the subject by top NCAA officials. The suit also shows how the NCAA and its partners give former athletes a piece of the pie on a small amount of items, but for the most part, rely on the fact that the athletes signed over their rights during their playing time to reason that they don’t deserve to share in the profits when their collegiate career is done.

Because O’Bannon’s lawsuit includes asking for compensation for video games as well, along with jerseys, DVD’s and photos, one of O’Bannon’s attorneys, Jon King, told CNBC that it’s possible that the two suits could be combined so that the issues can be fought over in front of the same judge and potentially the same jury. It makes it easier that the two cases have been filed in the same federal court in California.

King doesn’t yet know a ballpark dollar figure O’Bannon and the other players will win if they prevail at trial, but the suit does ask for the typical number –- three times the amount that the infringement is worth. For it's part the NCAA has denied any infringement of rights for current or former athletes.

How much is at stake would also depend on whether or not the cases are combined. If the Keller lawsuit is eventually folded into the O’Bannon suit, video game will only be able to go back four years instead of the current time period of 10 years. That’s because antitrust case damages are limited to four years before the case is filed, King said. But O'Bannon's case involves a greater spectrum of items sold.

So why are these two powerful cases coming now?

King said it’s because the NCAA and its partners have pushed the boundaries over the last four or five years, thanks in part to the selling of DVD’s and streaming video.

Both suits bring into play the larger question of the future of athlete participation contracts. If an athlete participates in college sports or even the Olympics, is it fair to assume that if they assigned their rights at the time of competition that their rights are perpetually owned? Many don’t think that’s fair.

Questions? Comments?