The Lawsuit That Could Finish Off the NCAA Finally Made It to Court

It’s been more than five years since Ed O’Bannon put the wheels in motion for what could be the defining antitrust suit of college sports, after he found himself in a copy of NCAA March Madness years after he graduated, as a member of the 1996 UCLA Bruins, one of the classic teams featured inside the game. O’Bannon, who is now a used car salesman and doesn’t play professional sports, did what most college athletes who don’t have the fiscal ability or professional inclination to do — he sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association for using his likeness.

While the NCAA makes you sign a waiver relinquishing your right to make money off your image as a college athlete (because amateurism, obviously), O’Bannon is suing the league under the Sherman Antitrust Act, alleging that the NCAA forced him to sign away his likeness rather than allowing him to sign it away to someone else, like a competing game studio.

“I think fans might be surprised to learn that money is off the table in this case,” said Kristi Drosh, a sports business analyst for Campus Insiders. “They will not be awarding any sort of monetary judgement at the end of this, even if the O’Bannon side wins. Instead, the NCAA would be forced to change its rules. And those are rules regarding a student-athlete’s ability to make money off of their own name and likeness.” Drosh also pointed out that some schools had already started to dodge bullets by no longer producing official jerseys with the numbers of active players.

“My gut feeling is that, in the sort of immediate future, this judge really does seem to favor the plantiffs — in this case that would be Ed O’Bannon and the other current and former student athletes that are involved in this case — so my gut is telling me that she might rule in their favor,” Drosh said, adding that “this could be tied up in court for years if the NCAA loses then appeals it.”