Class-action efforts allowed in O’Bannon case
by Steve Berkowitz USA TODAY Sports, USA TODAY
A federal judge in California has ruled that lawyers representing current and former college athletes in a potentially landmark anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA over use of their names and likenesses can proceed with efforts to have the case certified as a class action and ultimately to gain billions generated by the athletes’ play.
The NCAA and its co-defendants had filed a motion in October asking U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken to end the class-certification process, in part because they contended the plaintiffs had changed their legal strategy in a way that was unfair.
However, in a ruling Tuesday, Wilken wrote that “this is not reason to preclude Antitrust Plaintiffs from moving for class certification; instead, these contentions are more properly considered as arguments supporting denial of the motion for class certification on its merits.”
The judge gave the NCAA and its co-defendants — video-game maker Electronic Arts and the nation’s leading collegiate trademark licensing and marketing firm, Collegiate Licensing Co. — additional opportunities to file papers arguing against class certification. But she also wrote the defendants also must argue why the plaintiffs should not be allowed to amend their legal approach to the case, if she determines that such a change has actually occurred.
In addition, Wilken set a court hearing on the class-certification matter for June 20 in San Francisco.
In short, the judge has decided she will give full consideration to the athletes’ bid for class certification. If successful, it would force the NCAA, Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Co. to defend a case in which the plaintiffs have said they will be seeking billions in damages on behalf of college football and men’s basketball players.
Lawyers for the named plaintiffs — among them former basketball stars Ed O’Bannon, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell – also have said they want to fundamentally change how athletes are compensated for playing these sports in college.
In a statement, NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said: “Although our motion to strike was denied, the Judge has signaled skepticism on plaintiff’s class certification motion and recognized the plaintiffs’ radical change in their theory of … [For more on Judge lets class-action efforts in O'Bannon case go on, click here.]