Speed Reads

The plot thickens

Judge rules against NCAA in O'Bannon case, but athletes' victory may be largely symbolic

Friday night's decision in favor of college athletes was big — but it may also prove to be hollow.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of Ed O'Bannon (a former UCLA basketball standout) and 19 others in a lawsuit claiming the NCAA had violated antitrust law by not allowing athletes to be paid for their names, images, and likenesses. (Worth noting: This ruling is limited to that definition, and while language in this decision could color future pay-to-play debates, it did not directly affect any of those cases).

The ruling is a victory for college athletes (albeit only for Football Bowl Subdivision and Division I men's basketball players, USA Today notes) in the sense that they can now receive up to $5,000 a year in compensation for their role in the live television broadcasts that earn the NCAA so much cash. And, Wilken's ruling could affect other cases currently making their way through the legal labyrinth. She determined the NCAA's arguments that it was not a monopoly and that payments to players were unreasonable based on the definition of amateurism did not hold — "that could haunt the NCAA in other litigation," ESPN's Lester Munson says.

But it's worth remembering how narrow this ruling is. It affects only about 120 players per school, according to USA Today's "very rough math." Even if every eligible player received the maximum $5,000 per year, a school is only out around $600,000 — a large sum, to be sure, but not exactly on par with what the same institutions are receiving from those television contracts. And, these athletes were reaching for hundreds of thousands in compensation. A potential $25,000 payout (based on a typical five-year NCAA career) is a great step up from where the athletes currently stand. It's not likely to extinguish the NCAA as we know it, though.

"They're just giving the plaintiffs a little piece of the money many people would view them as entitled to," Michael Carrier, a Rutgers law professor who specializes in antitrust and intellectual property law, told the AP. "I don't think it will put college athletics out of existence."