Supreme Court re­jects O’Ban­non ap­peal

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Ralph D. Russo

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear the NCAA’s ap­peal of the Ed O’Ban­non case, leav­ing in place lower court rul­ings that found am­a­teurism rules for big-time college sports vi­o­lated fed­eral an­titrust law.

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear the NCAA’s ap­peal of the Ed O’Ban­non case, leav­ing in place lower court rul­ings that found am­a­teurism rules for big­time college sports vi­o­lated fed­eral an­titrust law but prohibited pay­ments to stu­dent-ath­letes.

The jus­tices on Mon­day re­jected the ap­peal in a class-ac­tion law­suit orig­i­nally filed by O’Ban­non, a former UCLA bas­ket­ball star, and later joined by other ath­letes. The court also re­jected O’Ban­non’s sep­a­rate ap­peal that called on the jus­tices to re­in­state a plan for schools to pay foot­ball and bas­ket­ball play­ers for the uses of their names, im­ages and like­nesses.

“It means the sta­tus quo has been pre­served for a while longer,” an­titrust at­tor­ney Robert Boland said.

The ef­fect of the high court ac­tion is to leave the NCAA vul­ner­a­ble to more le­gal chal­lenges that are work­ing their way through the courts, but it also gives the as­so­ci­a­tion time to make changes to blunt those pos­si­ble threats.

“While we are dis­ap­pointed with this de­ci­sion not to re­view this case, we re­main pleased that the 9th Cir­cuit agreed with us that am­a­teurism is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of college sports and that NCAA mem­bers should not be forced by the courts to pro­vide ben­e­fits un­teth­ered to ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing any pay­ments beyond the full cost of at­ten­dance,” NCAA chief le­gal of­fi­cer Don­ald Remy said in a state­ment.

In 2014, a U.S. dis­trict judge decided the NCAA’s use of names, im­ages and like­nesses of college ath­letes with­out com­pen­sa­tion vi­o­lated an­titrust law. Judge Clau­dia Wilken ruled schools could — but were not re­quired to — pay foot­ball and men’s bas­ket­ball play­ers up to $5,000 per year. The money would go into a trust and be avail­able to the ath­letes af­ter leav­ing college. Wilken also ruled schools could in­crease the value of the ath­letic schol­ar­ship to meet the fed­eral cost of at­ten­dance fig­ure for each in­sti­tu­tion.

The San Fran­cisco-based 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals last year over­turned Wilken’s rul­ing on the pay­ments of $5,000 but up­held the an­titrust vi­o­la­tion.

“While we would have liked the Supreme Court’s re­view, we re­main pleased with our trial vic­tory and the 9th Cir­cuit’s de­ci­sion up­hold­ing the find­ing that the NCAA vi­o­lated the an­titrust laws and af­firm­ing a per­ma­nent in­junc­tion to rem­edy that vi­o­la­tion, which en­ables NCAA mem­ber schools to of­fer college ath­letes sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional funds to­ward the cost of at­ten­dance,” Michael Haus­feld, lead at­tor­ney in the O’Ban­non case, said in a state­ment.

The NCAA al­ready has ad­dressed one as­pect of Wilken’s rul­ing by in­creas­ing the amount of aid schools may pro­vide ath­letes. In 2015, the NCAA passed leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing schools to in­crease the value of an ath­letic schol­ar­ship to in­clude each in­sti­tu­tion’s fed­er­ally reg­u­lated cost of at­ten­dance fig­ures. The cost of at­ten­dance in­cludes es­ti­mated val­ues for things such as travel be­tween cam­pus and home, and cloth­ing and food.

Two cases cur­rently in lower courts present po­ten­tial threats to the NCAA’s am­a­teurism model and its de­sire to re­strict com­pen­sa­tion to ath­letes in ways that would be more akin to an em­ployer-em­ployee re­la­tion­ship.

A case led by an­titrust lawyer Jeffrey Kessler and orig­i­nally filed by former Clem­son foot­ball player Martin Jenk­ins and another claim first filed by former West Vir­ginia player Shawne Alston but now con­sol­i­dated with other cases chal­lenge the NCAA’s right to cap com­pen­sa­tion for ath­letes at the value of a schol­ar­ship.

The Alston case also seeks dam­ages for ath­letes who played college sports be­fore the schol­ar­ship was in­creased to in­clude cost of at­ten­dance.

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