Big Ten, Horizon League commissioners will be deposed
An attorney helping to represent former and current college football and men’s basketball players in an anti-trust lawsuit told USA TODAY Sports a U.S. magistrate judge is allowing their legal team to take depositions from a college president and two conference commissioners who had made statements in the case saying that some schools and conferences might exit Division I or the Football Bowl Subdivision because of the financial and legal burden that would result from needing to share revenue with football and men’s basketball players.
Speaking after a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins on Wednesday in San Francisco, plaintiffs’ attorney Renae Steiner said Cousins allowed depositions of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone and Fresno State president John Welty.
Cousins also allowed the plaintiffs to take a deposition from NCAA executive vice president for championships and alliances Mark Lewis about various aspects of how the college sports governing body approaches its broadcast rights contracts for NCAA championships, Steiner said.
Steiner said the plaintiffs will not be allowed to depose Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds, Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and NCAA managing director of research Todd Petr. The plaintiffs’ lawyers agreed before Wednesday’s hearing to drop their request to depose Pacific-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott, after discussions with counsel for the Pac-12, Steiner said.
All of this is part of maneuvering in advance of a hearing June 20 before U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken on whether the case should be certified as a class action.
The suit, initially filed in May 2009, is against the NCAA; video-game maker Electronic Arts and the nation’s leading collegiate trademark licensing and marketing firm, Collegiate Licensing Co. Its named plaintiffs include former basketball stars Ed O’Bannon, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell.
The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated anti-trust law by conspiring to fix at zero the amount of compensation athletes can receive for the use of their names, images and likenesses in products or media while they are in school and by requiring athletes to sign forms under which they relinquish in perpetuity all rights pertaining to the use of the names, images and likenesses in ways including TV contracts, rebroadcasts of games, and video game, jersey and other apparel sales
In seeking certification of their suit as a class action, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said that while they are seeking monetary damages on behalf of former athletes, they “do not seek compensation to be paid to current student-athletes while they maintain their eligibility” but rather “a less restrictive, namely that monies generated by the licensing and sale of class members’ names, images and likenesses can be temporarily held in trust” until their end of their college playing careers.
If the case is certified as a class action, It almost certainly would bring thousands of current and former college athletes into the matter and potentially place billions of dollars in damages at stake.
Roger Noll, an economics professor emeritus at Stanford and an expert for the plaintiffs has proposed that athletes receive a 50-50 split of money for telecasts and a one-third split for video games.
Those projections prompted the statements from Delany, LeCrone and Welty.
“We are pleased that, despite the opposition of NCAA’s counsel, and counsel for the Big Ten, the court recognized our right to explore with Commissioner Delany, Commissioner LeCrone and Fresno State President Welty their views on the effects on Division I athletics if Plaintiffs were to prevail here,” Steiner said via e-mail. “We are also pleased that we are allowed to examine Mr. Lewis on his views of how the NCAA rules apply to the use of student athletes’ name, image and likeness rights.”
The NCAA was happy with Cousins’ decision to prevent some of the depositions the plaintiffs had wanted, and to allow what it termed “very limited additional discovery.”
“We are pleased with the court’s ruling and the admissions the plaintiffs’ lawyers made today highlighting the weaknesses in their theories,” the NCAA’s chief legal officer, Donald Remy said in a statement. “We look forward to the additional discovery shining a light on the reasons why this case is not a proper class action.”
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