Wednesday, April 3, 2013

More on NCAA student-athlete likeness antitrust litigation.

This is a great overview from Sports Illustrated on the NCAA student-athlete likeness antitrust litigation. It provides a plain explanation of the ramifications of an NCAA or student-athlete win. I discussed the case briefly in a few recent posts (Publicity rights and NCAA student-athletes; and How class-certification works in connection with the NCAA student-athlete antitrust litigation). Some NCAA rules have violated antitrust law, but generally, the rules governing competition have been upheld. This case involves a little of both: competition and noncompetition.

If the student-athletes win, many schools would have to eliminate a number of sports programs in order to pay current and former football and basketball players. Some schools would have to drop down to Division III status where no athletic scholarships are offered. Only the behemoths of college athletics would survive with reasonable certainty.

If the NCAA wins, nothing would really change. I find this result unlikely. There is no reasonable justification for retaining former football and basketball players' likenesses after they graduate. Hence, I think this NCAA policy will fall. As a result, former football and basketball players would be able to monetize their college likeness after they graduate, as long as it does not run infringe the schools' intellectual property. So for instance, this would mean that Mike Rozier, the 1983 Heisman Trophy winning running back for the University of Nebraska, would be able to make money off his likeness being used in EA Sports' NCAA Football series of video games.

I doubt student-athletes will get the right to negotiate licensing deals for themselves on an individual basis while in college, because history shows NCAA rules are not so unreasonable that a court will strike them down in their entirety. The amateur model is reasonable, but given the amount of money involved in college athletics today, a revision to the rules is needed. A reasonable revision is that the student-athletes get a per capita portion of licensing revenue placed in trust, that is accessible upon graduation. That way, the amateur model remains, but student-athletes do get compensated after their eligibility expires. (If this comes to fruition, the next lawsuit would be one involving a former student-athlete who did not graduate but seeks payment from trust because the amount has legally "vested". He would probably be entitled to that amount without graduating, but that is an issue for another day.)

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