SAN FRANCISCO - A group of athletes trying to win a slice of the billions of dollars universities reap from football and basketball will face a full court press on Tuesday from the NCAA, which is determined to enforce amateurism in college sports.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association wants a U.S. appeals court to undo a ruling last year that allowed student athletes a limited share of revenue by allowing students to recover some revenue generated from use of their names, images and likenesses.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, California added to mounting legal, political and public pressure for colleges to give student athletes better benefits. It came in response to an antitrust class action against the NCAA filed by more than 20 current and former athletes, saying players should share in profits of college athletics.
A three-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel will hear arguments from both sides on Tuesday, just a day before the NCAA's annual March Madness men's basketball tournament begins. The NCAA hired former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman to argue its case.
"The commercial pressures of college sports present (and have always presented) the risk that an avocation will become a profession and that athletics will become untethered from the academic experience," Waxman wrote in a court filing.
Broadcasters including the Walt Disney Co and CBS Corp have rallied behind the NCAA. The idea that each participant in a team sporting event has an individual right of publicity "is simply wrong," the networks wrote in a brief.
In her ruling last year, Wilken directed that some college athletes receive deferred payments of $5,000 per year.
"But amateurs who are paid are no longer amateurs," Waxman wrote.
The majority of college athletes do not go on to play professionally. Critics say the NCAA's current scholarship policy short-changes athletes who risk injury and devote many hours to practice sessions, travel and competition.
"The NCAA's own 'principle of amateurism' purportedly proscribes commercial exploitation of college athletes," attorneys for the athletes wrote, but "the NCAA itself engages in precisely such exploitation."
The lead plaintiff, Edward O'Bannon, won a national basketball championship with UCLA in 1995. He testified during trial that he usually spent about 40-45 hours per week on basketball and "maybe about 12 hours" on academics.
"I was an athlete masquerading as a student," O'Bannon said in court. (Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Christian Plumb)