Judge rules NCAA must let colleges pay athletes

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Ed O’Bannon with his former UCLA head coach Jim Harrick in 2008.

Professional athletes can earn megabucks, because they help their teams make huge profits from ticket sales and they can get sweet media advertising deals. However, college athletes can only get school-related costs covered, like tuition and living expenses, because the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that regulates college sports programs doesn’t allow them to share in the billions of dollars made from their efforts. Now, a federal judge made a historic ruling forcing the NCAA to let colleges pay athletes for using their names and images in video games and TV broadcasts.

The NCAA’s rules against students receiving profits are based on promoting “amateurism” and “competitive balance”, to help students focus on academics and the pure thrill of organized athletic play rather than becoming distracted by moneymaking deals. However, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed a lawsuit against the NCAA claiming that the organization was violating American antitrust laws.

What does that mean? Well, when businesses become too big and powerful, they start to have a monopoly – owning and controlling nearly all of the market for a product or service. Antitrust laws are meant to prevent that from happening. So, the federal judge ruled in favor of O’Bannon, stating that the NCAA was using its absolute command of college sports programs to unfairly restrict students from sharing in the profits made on their images and names.

Still, despite the historic ruling, don’t expect to see millionaire college athletes anytime soon. The NCAA is still allowed to prevent students from selling their names and images on an individual basis, and can stop them from getting endorsement deals from advertisers. Basically, the ruling allows football players in the top 10 conferences and all Division I men’s basketball players to have money set aside for them in a trust fund that they can access after graduation. The NCAA can limit how much money the colleges are allowed to put in those trust funds, but they can’t cap it any lower than $5,000 for each year the college athlete is academically eligible for play.

Whether or not the ruling is overturned, since the NCAA is appealing the decision to be tried again in another court, it opens the door for players to push against the decades of restrictions on moneymaking. Even the USA’s Congress has been pressuring the NCAA in recent months to treat college athletes better, as lawmakers question the value of amateurism. You can expect to see this issue continue receiving intense attention, and for other landmark decisions to be made on whether or not college athletes should share in the profits.

Featured image courtesy of NCAA. Image of Ed O’Bannon courtesy of JMR Photography on Flickr.