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Appeals court rules NCAA in violation of antitrust laws

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SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling against the NCAA saying its use of college athletes’ names, images and likenesses violated antitrust laws but struck down a plan allowing schools to pay athletes up to $5,000.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday that the NCAA couldn’t stop schools from providing full scholarships to student athletes but vacated the proposal for deferred cash payments.

The NCAA appealed U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken’s 2014 decision, which came in a lawsuit filed by UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others.

A statement from NCAA President Mark Emmert says the organization agrees with the court that the injunction “allowing students to be paid cash compensation of up to $5,000 per year was erroneous.”

Appeals court grants stay of injunction in O’Bannon lawsuit

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With the ruling in the lawsuit that includes former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon making it possible for former and current athletes alike to be compensated for the uses of their names, images and likenesses, there are major changes on the horizon for collegiate athletics. That ruling was scheduled to go into effect August 1, with the NCAA filing a stay of the injunction to prevent this from occurring.

Friday morning the governing body received good news as the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has granted the NCAA’s stay of the injunction according to the New York Times. For current and future athletes, a denial of the NCAA’s stay would have resulted in their money being placed in a trust fund that would be available upon the completion of their eligibility. The stay remains in effect until the appeals court makes a final decision on the case, according to an NCAA spokesperson.

“We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit today granted the NCAA’s motion for stay,” NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said in a statement. “As a result, the NCAA will not be implementing any changes to its rules in response to the district court’s injunction at this time. We continue to await the Ninth Circuit’s final ruling.”

Friday’s news is an important step for the NCAA, with many of its members already making moves to ensure that the full cost of attendance is met in its scholarships for revenue sports. Friday’s ruling gives the NCAA and its membership more time to account for the possibility of having to compensate athletes beyond measures taken to meet the full cost of attendance (this would begin with the 2016-17 academic year).

This was something Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany addressed earlier this week at his conference’s football media days.

“The NCAA council and the (Division I) NCAA board of directors has been meeting all week to talk about the changes that may be necessary under NCAA rules to accommodate the judge’s ruling,” Delany said during the Big Ten’s annual football media days. “As you know, a request for stay has been requested. A judge hasn’t rule on that yet, but we hope we’ll get a favorable ruling. We may or we may not. We’re also hoping the 9th circuit issues a ruling before August first, that’s just today and tomorrow. It may happen or it may not.

“But once we understand what the NCAA rule changes are, I’m sure there will be lots of details that need to be addressed and we’ll do that.”

Per Judge Claudia Wilken’s original ruling, athletes could receive no less than $5,000 (2014 figure) for the use of their name, image or likeness. That number has risen to $5,040 per USA Today. Without a stay such measures could have been used by schools to entice recruits who would be on campus in 2016.

How much will the NCAA and its members have to pay down the line, if anything? And how will possible payments change the landscape of collegiate athletics as a whole? Those are questions to be considered as this case moves towards a conclusion.

One can definitely argue that there’s a division of the “haves” and “have-nots,” with five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) being granted autonomy last year (thanks to football they also reel in more money that the other leagues. Possible changes regarding what athletes can receive in the future will make contracts such as the rights to the NCAA tournament (the governing body’s biggest money-maker) even more important down the line.

$60 million video game lawsuit settlement approved

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College athletes whose names, images and likenesses were used in video games distributed and published between May 2003 and September 2014 are one step closer to receiving their portion of a settlement agreed upon last year.

According to USA Today, US District Judge Claudia Wilken gave approval of the $60 million settlement, to which more than 20,000 college basketball and college football players have filed claims. For those who have yet to file a claim, they now have until July 31 to do so and current college athletes who may be impacted will not risk their eligibility by taking the settlement.

Judge Wilken still has to issue final written approval of the settlement, which would then trigger a 30-day period in which objections can be filed. If there are no objections, that would then begin the process of athletes receiving their portion of the settlement. According to the report Steve Berman, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, estimates that athletes who received maximum exposure (based in part upon how many years they played in college)  in the games could receive up to $7,200.

What also helps the athletes in regards to how much money they could see from this is Judge Wilken’s statement regarding legal costs and fees due to the attorneys.

Speaking after a hearing Wilken held in California, Steve Berman said the judge also agreed to extend the deadline for affected athletes to file a claim through July 31. Berman also said Wilken told the attorneys involved in the case that she might be inclined to reduce the costs and fees that they will be awarded to 30% of the settlement rather than 33%. That would increase the amount of money available to affected athletes.

EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) settled with the plaintiffs in the “Ed O’Bannon lawsuit” in September 2013, which left the NCAA as the lone remaining defendant in that case. Judge Wilken ruled in favor of the plaintiffs last summer, with the NCAA responding by filing an appeal that was heard in mid-March.

Earlier this week it was ruled that the NCAA would have to pay $46 million in legal fees as a result of the lawsuit.

Report: The NCAA has spent $240,000 on lobbying in 2014

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In the past six months, the NCAA has spent more money on lobbying than it has ever before. This coming from Lalita Clozel of OpenSecrets.org, a research group tracking money in U.S. politics and lobbying data, which posted their findings on Tuesday.

From the start of 2014 to June 30, the NCAA had spent $240,000 in lobbying efforts, more than $80,000 it spent during all of 2013. In March, the Chicago regional office of the the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in favor of Northwestern football players, declaring them as employees. That decision resulted in the NCAA hiring outside lobbyists for the first time since 1998, according to OpenSecrets.org. That is when the spending really began.

Over the first half of 2014, the NCAA already broke its record of yearly lobbying expenditures. During 2013, the NCAA spent $160,000 on lobbying. This year, as of June 30, it has already spent $240,000. That includes $180,000 just in the second quarter, which covers April to June. A new topic appears on every lobbying disclosure filed after March 2014: the “welfare” or “well-being” of student athletes.

This report comes on the heels of a difficult week for the NCAA. On Thursday, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors allowed a certain level of autonomy to the Power 5 conferences. The following day, a federal judge ruled that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by prohibiting student-athletes from being compensating for the use of their name, image or likeness. The group of plaintiffs was led by former UCLA forward Ed O’Bannon.

On Sunday, the NCAA announced that it would appeal the O’Bannon ruling.

NCAA won’t punish active players who receive payouts from Electronic Arts settlement


With it being announced last week that the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit and Electronic Arts reached an agreement on a settlement, with the video game maker due to pay $40 million, some wondered whether or not current college athletes would be able to receive money without concern of being penalized by the NCAA. The NCAA answered that question in a brief statement, noting that it will not punish current college athletes who receive a portion of the settlement.

“First, under no circumstances will we allow the proposed agreement between EA and plaintiff’s lawyers to negatively impact the eligibility of any student-athlete…not one will miss a practice or a game if this settlement is approved by the court,” the statement read. “This proposed settlement does not equate to payment of current student-athletes for their athletic performance, regardless of how it is being publicly characterized.

“Second, the real benefactors of this settlement are the lawyers, who could pocket more than $15 million.”

While that last sentence may be true, it comes off as catty and is one that whoever wrote the statement could have done without. Was there anything the NCAA would have lost by not stating that the lawyers are in line to benefit the most from the multimillion dollar settlement? Probably not.

The NCAA, the lone remaining defendant in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit after EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company agreed to settle with the plaintiffs, will look to win a suit that could have a major impact on the slate of collegiate athletics that will begin on June 9 (Monday).

As for whether or not current college basketball players could be in line to benefit from the settlement, sixth-year seniors may be the only ones with a shot. The final college basketball game produced, NCAA Basketball 10, was released in the fall of 2009.

Ed O’Bannon lawsuit to officially begin June 9


The NCAA has made multiple attempts to delay the start of the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, with the most recent request being to have the trial delayed until February 2015. A ruling in the NCAA’s favor would allow that suit to run at the same time as the lawsuit filed by Sam Keller regarding the use of player likenesses in video games, giving the NCAA more time to strengthen its arguments in the O’Bannon suit.

However Friday afternoon it was reported by Steve Berkowitz of USA Today that Judge Claudia Wilken denied the NCAA’s remaining motions, meaning that the O’Bannon lawsuit will begin as scheduled on June 9. Also of note from the report is the fact that Wilken formally separated the O’Bannon and Keller lawsuits, setting a March 2015 start date for the latter.

And there was also a development regarding the plaintiffs’ usage of evidence related to video games:

In another part of her ruling — one that is key to the shape and direction of the O’Bannon trial — Wilken refused the NCAA’s request that she sever all evidence and claims related to video games from the case. That likely will enable the O’Bannon plaintiffs to make arguments, cite documents and ask witnesses about the NCAAs’ dealings with video game manufacturer Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Co., the nation’s leading collegiate trademark licensing and marketing firm.

While these developments aren’t good for the NCAA, the lone defendant in the O’Bannon lawsuit, representatives stated that in spite of Friday’s rulings they’ll be ready for the start of the trial on June 9.