Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Sports column

July 29, 2013

Column: O'Bannon's likeness lawsuit challenges the structure of college sports

— Many remember Ed O’Bannon as an All-American forward at UCLA in the early ‘90s. In the future, though, his collegiate basketball career might be nothing more than a footnote in his biography if his lawsuit against the NCAA, video game maker Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Co. is successful.

O'Bannon’s case and its ramifications could radically change – some might say destroy – college sports as we know them today.

It could be that a judge dismisses the action brought by O’Bannon and other college basketball and football players over the use of their likenesses without being paid. No matter how the case is decided, the lawsuit has become the biggest winner-take-all showdown to hit “amateur” athletics since, well, perhaps ever.

College sports were created so student-athletes from one school could engage in spirited weekend activities against lads from another school as a way to break the tension of academic pursuit. But over the generations sports became big business. Some started to question whether tuition and board was fair reimbursement for players while others, including the institutions they represented, became rich.

What has evolved is a showdown between old-style amateurism and a 21st century business that markets a product that cannot satisfy an insatiable public demand. This case is about the money – not just weekend pocket change to drop at a campus pizza joint but billions of dollars.

O’Bannon, the lead plaintiff, is joined by 16 athletes past and present, including former superstars Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson. The case was filed in 2009 and O’Bannon’s lawyers are now in court saying the matter deserves class-action status – a move that could potentially in bring in thousands of current or former athletes. If that happens, and if the athletes prevail, the entire structure of college sports as we know it could implode.

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