Judge Wilken Listens to Additional Arguments on College Athlete Compensation

On January 16, 2018, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken once again presided over a court where a class of college athletes attempted to obtain a judgement that would lift the cap on college athlete’s compensation. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) argued that this most recent class-action suit is barred by the Ninth Circuit’s September 2015 O’Bannon decision.

As we have continued to cover, back in 2014, Judge Wilken presided over the O’Bannon decision, where she sided with the college athletes in an antitrust lawsuit led by former University of California at Los Angeles basketball player, Ed O’Bannon. In the case, the issue revolved around the ability of college athletes to profit from their likenesses. Judge Wilken found that the NCAA’s rules banning compensation for student athletes were anti-competitive, but after the case was appealed, the final decision held that compensation for college athletes had to be capped at the cost of college attendance. Following the ruling, most top-colleges have begun offering scholarships to their student athletes that meet the total cost of attendance.

According to lawyers representing the college athletes, this new litigation is much broader than what the O’Bannon court decided. The lawyers argued, that after the NCAA decided to allow athletes to receive gifts that aren’t tethered to their education costs, the NCAA must now justify why additional compensation shouldn’t be allowed. Their complaint alleges that if a player is worth more to a school than the value of a full scholarship, then that player should be further compensated. On the other hand, lawyers representing the NCAA said, “The irony is we provided more benefits and they are trying to say that is the basis to require more [compensation].” Lawyers for the NCAA argued that the class of players is playing a game of “whack-a-mole,” going from benefit by benefit to determine what the NCAA should provide to college athletes.

According to Judge Wilken, the O’Bannon decision considered that NCAA rules may change over time, “there is no question that if there is a little change, we’re not going to run back to court and play whack-a-mole.” Judge Wilken mentioned that she may require the lawyers, from both sides, to submit written arguments in order to draw the line on college athlete compensation.

It appears the argument over properly compensating college athletes is far from over. Figures from October 2017, show the average Division I school generates $31.9 million in revenue each year from its football program. Also, Washington Post poll from October 2017, asks readers, “Q: Do you think that college football and basketball players deserve to be paid in addition to receiving scholarships based on how much money they generate for universities, or do you think scholarships are adequate compensation?”  Thirty-eight percent said that players should be compensates based on revenue generated, while 52 percent said that scholarships are adequate compensation.

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