One day after six current college football players joined a closely watched antitrust case against the NCAA, attorneys on both sides swapped fresh jabs Friday.
Current and former athletes believe they are owed billions of dollars, saying the NCAA allowed their likenesses to be used in video games without compensation. NCAA chief legal counsel Donald Remy made it clear Friday that the governing body has no intention of changing the amateurism policy that has been a bedrock principle since the NCAA was founded more than a century ago.
"College sports today are valued by the student-athletes who compete and all of us who support them," he said. "However, the plaintiffs' lawyers in the likeness case now want to make this about professionalizing a few current student-athletes to the detriment of all others. Their scheme to pay a small number of student-athletes threatens college sports as we know it.
"In particular, we would lose the very real opportunity for at least 96 percent of NCAA male and female student-athletes who do not compete in Division I men's basketball or FBS football to play a sport and get an education, as they do today."
Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon is the lead plaintiff among 16 former college athletes in the lawsuit. Basketball Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson previously joined the lawsuit that also named video-game maker EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Co. A federal judge is considering a request to grant class-action status to the lawsuit, which would open it to potentially thousands of current and former athletes and possibly expose the NCAA to millions in damages.
Besides voluminous court filings, there have been plenty of twists.
On Wednesday, the NCAA issued a statement saying it would no longer allow EA Sports to use its name or logo on video games. The NCAA had been being paid $545,000 annually by EA Sports.
A day later, six current players — Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham; Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson; linebacker Jake Fischer and kicker Jake Smith from Arizona; and tight end Moses Alipate and wide receiver Victor Keise of Minnesota — were added to the list of plaintiffs.
O'Bannon's side insists the flurry of movement this week indicates the NCAA is worried it might lose in court.
"It's apparent to us that the NCAA's decision to end its long and hugely profitable relationship with EA is tied directly to the pressure our litigation is bringing the bear," said Steve Berman, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs and managing partner at Hagens Berman. "Our suit illustrates how the cabal between the NCAA and EA has exploited student athletes for years, using their images in video games without compensation. While we are heartened they've stopped the practice, we believe they owe those student-athletes a great deal more than their implied promise to stop stealing their images."