BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Lawyers representing Ed O'Bannon, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Tyrone Prothro and other ex-college athletes filed a motion last month in Alabama to make the SEC provide documents for the players' lawsuit against the NCAA.
The motion asks the SEC to turn over, among other documents, the SEC's contract with ESPN and copies of the Bowl Championship Series television agreements. SEC lawyers said in court documents that league officials spent 40 hours responding to the subpoena and produced 367 pages of documents, except for the "highly sensitive" ESPN and BCS agreements.
The legal dispute reflects an attempt by O'Bannon's lawyers to obtain discovery across the country for their case in California against the NCAA, Collegiate Licensing Company and Electronic Arts, Inc. The players claim the NCAA and those companies violate federal antitrust laws by preventing players from getting paid based off their name and likeness even after leaving college.
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The case, referred to as O'Bannon, threatens the very foundation of the ironclad control enjoyed by the NCAA, conferences and NCAA member schools over the ability of student-athletes to earn money from their athletics reputation or performance, both past and present.
If the plaintiffs prevail in the case, expect athletes in major college sports (and some minor sports as well) to enjoy the ability to negotiate with sponsors and others seeking to license their likenesses and endorsements, in a fashion similar to what the Olympic athletes have managed to do.
This case bears careful watching.