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NCAA exec: O'Bannon likely going to trial; 'We've all drawn our swords'

LAS VEGAS -- A senior NCAA official said Wednesday he expects the O'Bannon lawsuit to proceed to trial.

"We've all drawn our swords," said Mark Lewis, NCAA executive vice president for championships and alliances.

Lewis made the statement to CBSSports.com after speaking at the Football Bowl Association Convention.

Lewis was basically echoing the association's ongoing stance regarding the trial that potentially could redefine the collegiate athletic model. O'Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, is the lead plaintiff in the 4-year old antitrust lawsuit that seeks compensation for use of athletes' images for commercial purposes. At stake are potentially billions of dollars in TV rights and licensing fees. The trial is scheduled to begin June 9.

The NCAA faces anti-trust lawsuits on several fronts as well as several lawsuits dealing with concussions. At least 65 players have sued the NCAA and/or schools over brain trauma issues.

Meanwhile, Northwestern football players will vote on unionization Friday. (A National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern players can unionize has been added to the O'Bannon suit.)

The NCAA board is expected to progress on restructuring Thursday, voting in autonomous legislation for the Big Five conferences. The bulk of that legislation seeks to improve student-athlete welfare.

"The plaintiffs, lawyers and unions are here," Lewis said, indicating one end of a spectrum. "But we've got to get to the middle. How we're going to get there? Either we're going to do it or someone else is going to do it.

"Nobody's debating are we going to get there and we should?" Lewis added. "But it's not just snap your fingers."

Lewis was reacting to the same question asked of NCAA president Mark Emmert during the Final Four: How does the NCAA beat reform and restructuring to the courts?

"O'Bannon's in June so, no, because we've said we're not going to vote on reform until August," Lewis said. "Whoever loses or wins on that [O'Bannon] is going to appeal it. O'Bannon's not going to be settled law of the land the day after the trial.

As for the O'Bannon trial he reiterated, "... barring some … judge being sick … It's going to happen."

Yahoo Sports reported in late March that mediation talks between O'Bannon and NCAA lawyers had not gone well.

Lewis also announced to attendees that bowls' annual certification fee would drop from $15,000 to $10,000 per bowl. That money goes toward postseason drug testing and insurance among other expenses, Lewis said. Since deregulation of the NCAA's role in bowls a couple of years ago, the association has had less to do with overseeing the postseason.

The NCAA retained oversight over bowls' title or presenting sponsor. The association also is in the second year of auditing each bowl. An accounting firm (BKD) hired by the NCAA is expected to hit six bowls per year. Lewis admitted the audits were in response to the Fiesta Bowl scandal.

Former Fiesta executive director John Junker was sentenced in March to eight months in federal prison for his role in a campaign-finance misappropriation of funds.

"Since Mark [two years ago] came on board there has been better dialogue between this group and the FBA," said FBA executive director Wright Waters said. "This is the way for the rest of the world to know [bowls are] clean."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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