Appeals ruling in O’Bannon case offers wins for both sides

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Earlier today, a ruling came down in Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA.

A federal appeals court in California upheld a ruling that said that the NCAA’s amateurism rules violate antitrust law but struck down a decision made by a lower court that would allow schools to pay athletes up to $5,000 in deferred compensation. The appeals court also upheld the ruling that allowed schools to provide stipends to complete cost of attendance scholarships.

On the surface, this looks like a win for the NCAA, as they won’t have to provide that extra $5,000 per athlete.

But it’s not as simple as that. I’ll let VICE Sports explain:

The fact that the appeals court upheld Judge Claudia Wilken’s O’Bannon finding that college sports amateurism isn’t legal on its face is a major problem for the NCAA going forward. In particular, this line has to be disconcerting:

“We conclude that the district court’s [Wilken’s] decision was largely correct.”

The lone incorrect part? Wilken’s ruling about $5,000 trust fund payments. That aspect always struck legal scholars and casual observers alike as odd, given that a federal judge was essentially imposing a college sports payment cap as seemingly anticompetitive as NCAA amateurism. Moreover, the arbitrary $5,000 amount–a number Wilken pretty much conjured out of the ether–had nothing to do with what elite athletes actually would be worth to schools in an free talent market.

That’s an issue because big time athletes are worth a lot more than $5,000 on the open market. How often do we see studies popping up that say, for example, that the Michigan football player is worth $500,000 or Louisville basketball players are worth $1.5 million. Those numbers are a lot more than the measly $5,000, and while it’s impossible to know if either of them are accurate, it doesn’t take Neil Tyson DeGrasse to figure out that capping those trusts at $5,000 was probably a win for the NCAA.

It’s not a total loss for the NCAA, however. From CBSSports.com:

The NCAA, meanwhile, got a “strong win” on the issue of NILs that will make it hard for the Shawne Alston and Martin Jenkins lawsuits to seek more money for college athletes. The Kessler case is seeking a free market for football and men’s basketball players and has a class certification hearing along with Alston on Thursday before Wilken.

“Not only did the Ninth Circuit strike this down but it did so in a way that makes it hard to see how (if upheld) future attempts to get even more money for students (like in Alston and Jenkins) would be successful,” Carrier wrote via email. “If even this deferred $5K doesn’t fly, nor would greater amounts that have even less to do with educational expenses.”

To put all this in layman’s terms: amateurism violates antitrust laws but it’s going to take a lot to prove it, and, frankly, I’d be surprised if this got settled anywhere other than the Supreme Court.

There is one and only one clear winner in all of this: The lawyers.