NCAA Athletes Attempt to Avoid Jury Trial in Antitrust Suit

On May 15, 2014, the National Collegiate Athletic Association found itself in the midst of an antitrust suit. The antitrust class action is in regards to player compensation. It was confirmed Wednesday that the players would be pursuing a bench trial in order to get the NCAA to change its practices.

Trial is set to begin June 9. Attorneys for the players are claiming the NCAA used the player’s names and likeness without player compensation, violating antitrust laws. The player’s attorneys also confirmed that the players did not intend to “proceed before a jury with individual damages claims against the NCAA” in a joint pre trial brief. This is in reaction to a previous ruling by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, where the judge certified previous and current Division I men’s football and basketball players as a class during their attempt the get the NCAA to change its policies. Wilken declined to do so when they attempted to receive reimbursement for past damages. So, Wilken gave the players a deadline on Wednesday night to pursue past damages as individuals.

In reaction, the motion stated that all but one unnamed plaintiffs refuse to pursue individual damages against the NCAA (the unnamed plaintiff could not be reached.) Rather, the motion stated that the plaintiffs would“continue to pursue claims for injunctive and equitable relief in a bench trial before this court.” This move was viewed by the NCAA as a haphazard attempt to avoid a jury trial, to instead be tried solely by Judge Wilken.

In the filing, the NCAA refers to the move as a “last minute and abrupt decision to attempt to avoid having a jury decide the important decisions in this consolidated litigation…the NCAA vigorously objects to the Plaintiff’s apparent last ditch effort to change course in this litigation.” The NCAA filing made a point to highlight the move’s timing, which came hours before the filing was due.

It is speculated that the NCAA’s irritation is due to the fact that Judge Wilken has has various rulings in favor of the plaintiffs in the past months. For instance, in November she rejected the NCAA’s claim regarding a class conflict between well-known and lesser known athletes. Soon after, she rejected the NCAA’s attempt to receive summary judgment, saying it had First Amendment rights for live broadcasting. That said, the November ruling she rejected could have gotten the athletes billions in past damages had they won.

The Wednesday filings were a part of an on-going class action suit which claims that the NCAA cheats student-athletes out of billions of dollars the league is making off of the athletes names and likenesses, using no-compensation amateurism rules. The suit originally claimed that the player’s likenesses were being used in video games, trading cards, and other products by companies Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Co.

The NCAA declined to comment.

The case is in re: NCAA Student-Athlete Name and Likeness Licensing Litigation, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Northern California.

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