More than 50 former NCAA athletes Friday offered support for one-time UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon, who is suing the NCAA for its ban on athlete compensation.
A "Statement of Support" was signed by past college basketball players, including Ray Jackson who played on Michigan's famed "Fab Five" teams.Ten NFL Hall of Famers also signed it, including Thurman Thomas, Gino Marchetti and Eric Dickerson.
The group criticized the athletic association's current model, which reaps billions of dollars for the NCAA and its schools from TV contracts along with merchandise and ticket sales, while offering little beyond scholarships for student athletes in exchange for their services.
"We wish to call attention to the compelling need for dramatic change in the relationship between college athletes and the NCAA and respect for athlete rights," the statement read.
Michael Hausfeld, the lawyer representing O'Bannon, told Fox News that the statement is another sign that public opinion on the issue is evolving. The group of athletes believes "the NCAA is abusing and dominating its athletes and its relationship with its athletes for its own benefit," he said.
Last month, a National Labor Relations Board director in Chicago sided with college players at Northwestern University, paving the way for the formation of a union and collective bargaining for some student athletes there. Many experts said it was a tipping point in the debate.
The NCAA said it could improve its rules, but contends that athletes are students, not employees.
"We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid," said Donald Remy, the NCAA's chief legal officer.
But O'Bannon said he hears from hundreds of current and former athletes who agree with him.
"I get phone calls all the time. I get emails all the time," O'Bannon said. "Whether you're a current or former athlete, I think one believes that the rules or the way the NCAA runs their business is flawed."
In February, federal judge Claudia Wilken cleared the way for O'Bannon's case. O'Bannon v. NCAA is scheduled for trial on June 9 in an Oakland, Calif. federal court.