US: The stakes are high as NCAA antitrust trial kicks off

The high-profile antitrust lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association kicked off in federal court yesterday, a case that has the potential to upend the college sports business, experts say.

Following each side’s last-minute pretrial filings, reports say the NCAA has an uphill battle to defend itself against allegations of antitrust violations; the suit, filed by former NCAA athlete Ed O’Bannon, accuses the NCAA of restraint of trade violations by the NCAA’s practice of allowing the use of NCAA athlete names and likeness in products like video games without compensating the athletes. Further, reports say, the plaintiffs claim the collaboration between NCAA universities to deny athlete payment is also in violation of antitrust law.

Reports say the NCAA will likely use the defense of questioning whether plaintiffs have properly defined the economic markets pertaining to a college education and group licensing of the intellectual property of an athlete. Further, according to reports, the NCAA will likely argue that a US Supreme Court ruling from 1984 that decided that any NCAA rule that continues the “revered tradition of amateurism in college sports” is presumed to be “procompetitive.”

But experts expect the plaintiffs to call witnesses to the stand to testify about multimillion-dollar salaries of NCAA coaches, television deals, and other money-making operations of the collegiate athletics group; the athletes argue that the commercialism of the NCAA’s operations harms student athletes.

The case will be heard by US District Judge Claudia Wilken.

At the start of the trial, according to reports, a settlement was announced that settled a separate but related case regarding the use of NCAA-themed video games made by Electronic Arts.

This suit, launched by former NCAA player Sam Keller, has resolved in a deal that sees $20 million awarded to certain athletes whose names and likeness were used in the video games. The NCAA also agreed to grant a waver that will allow current athletes to receive their share of the settlement.

The Keller trial had been scheduled for next March.

Full content: Businessweek and Courier-Journal

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