Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog

Court Decision Paves Path For Start Of NCAA Student Athletes Suit

Court Decision Paves Path For Start Of NCAA Student Athletes Suit

Lieff Cabraser serves as co-counsel for a group of current and former college athletes in an antitrust class action against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). On April 14, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken denied the NCAA’s motion for summary judgment and granted in part plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, paving the way for trial in the case to start in June 2014.

Plaintiffs are current and former student athletes who played for NCAA Division I men’s football or basketball teams.

The complaint alleges that the NCAA conspired with Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) and Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) to restrain competition in the market for the commercial use of their names, images, and likenesses in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. The NCAA sold or licensed the names, images, and likenesses of Division I men’s football and basketball players, without their consent or compensation, for use in live television broadcasts, archival game footage, and NCAA-branded videogames featuring player-avatars modeled after real student-athletes.

The complaint also charges that the NCAA, EA and CLC conspired to foreclose current and former student athletes from the market for the licensing, use, and sale of their names, images, and likenesses.

The Court rejected the NCAA’s claim that its actions were justified because the profits from it obtained from the alleged conspiracy enabled NCAA member schools to increase their funding of other sports. The Court noted that antitrust law does not permit a practice that restrains trade because it may produce some benefits in another market. Moreover, the Court, observed the NCAA could support sports other than men’s football and basketball though means which do not necessitate violating antitrust laws.

In addition, the Court rejected the NCAA’s contention that under the First Amendment rights of broadcasters to televise college football and basketball games trumps any rights of the student athletes. The Court found that "the First Amendment does not guarantee media organizations an unlimited right to broadcast entire college football and basketball games." The Court concluded "the First Amendment does not preclude the existence of a market for group licenses to us student-athletes’ names, images, and likenesses in those broadcasts."

By Eric Fastiff.