Federal Judge Rules Some College Players Are Entitled To Payment
College athletes scored a major victory in court Friday. A federal judge issued a ruling that the NCAA violated antitrust law by prohibiting athletes from payment for the use of their names, images and likenesses. The ruling addressed football and basketball players in particular.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Today, a major legal victory for college athletes and a big defeat for the NCAA. A federal judge has ruled that some NCAA players are entitled to payment for the use of their names images and likenesses. The anti-trust case was brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and 19 other plaintiffs. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me to talk about today's ruling. Tom, this is being considered a landmark decision. What did the judge say about which college athletes could get payment and for what exactly?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Yeah, well, the ruling was in favor of basically men's basketball and major college football players. So these are the one's who'll benefit from the money, which will be capped, I should say. That's the good news for the NCAA. So we're not talking about bankrupting the NCAA here. But it will have to be at least $5,000 per athlete. As this and other cases move on, you know, they're going to have to confront what to do about all the athletes - male and female, who are, you know, varsity, scholarship athletes in school. But the thing that separates it right now - it's the big revenue generators of men's basketball and football. They're the ones bring in the money, they're the ones depicted in these video games.
BLOCK: And those are the sports that are also bring in billions of dollars in TV contracts. And, Tom, as I understand it, this was considered a novel use of anti-trust law. Now the judge has ruled, yeah, actually, this does apply here.
GOLDMAN: Well, I believe anti-trust because the allegation was that the NCAA and its member colleges and universities were restricting compensation, having the athletes sign documents that essentially signed away their ability to get paid for their likenesses, so a restraint of trade restricting compensation. That's why the judge ruled it was an anti-trust violation.
BLOCK: So given this ruling, this defeat for the NCAA, Tom, what happens now?
GOLDMAN: Well, the decision can be appealed. The NCAA said today that it disagrees with the court's decision and it's reviewing the full decision and will comment more later. But just the fact that it disagrees, I think, we're assuming the NCAA will appeal and this thing could get locked up in court for a while longer. An earlier decision, I should add, prevents these players for collecting from past damages. So that was the kind of thing that could have really, you know, taken a big bite of the NCAA coffers.
BLOCK: Tom, there is a bigger picture here - and that is the shifting balance of power between the NCAA and the athletes. And today's ruling clearly seems to continue a trend of the scales tipping towards the athletes.
GOLDMAN: That's absolutely right. You know, yesterday, we had the vote by Division I board of directors giving the so-called Power Five conferences more autonomy in rule making, which in theory will allow the 65 schools in those five richest conferences to give out extra benefits to athletes - making their scholarships whole, increasing health coverage, even relaxing the rules about athletes, you know, making contact with agents while the athletes are in school. You've also got the Northwestern football players, remember, who, you know, were waiting for a decision from the NLRB whether they can unionize. That would be a major thing. And there's at least one other major lawsuit. And just in general, the mood - you talk to anyone and people see the billions of dollars from TV contracts, there's going to be even more money this year, the first year of a college football playoff at the highest level, which is going to generate even more. So the whole idea of college sports is awash in money. And today, yesterday and in the future, we're going to see - we probably will see more of these decisions going in favor of the athletes.
BLOCK: NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.