Powerful law firm aims to become first to represent college athletes

What if every time the NCAA wanted to hand out a suspension to a player, coach or program it knew a fight from a union would be part of the process?

A Bloomberg.com story details how such a future could be coming.

An attorney named Jeff Kessler -- who is credited with creating free agency in the NFL -- is now about to spearhead an effort to give college players representation. For many, this is a move long overdue, given college sports/the NCAA is now collectively being paid more than $16 billion in TV contracts, according to Bloomberg.com's piece.

Winston & Strawn LLP is the law firm (based in New York City) that will attempt to alter the relationship between the NCAA and its players -- and also "coaches, schools and conferences." Kessler is a powerful voice and attorney, and this movement could be a culture change for college sports as we know it. Heck, the NCAA is already still embroiled in two major lawsuits, both of which threaten big-time economical health of the organization. The Ed O'Bannon case on compensating former and current NCAA athletes is the major one -- and awaiting class-action status -- but don't forget the major, ongoing concussion/head trauma lawsuit, similar to what the NFL settled in late August.

And, lest you forget, the NCAA had its credit rating downgraded this summer as well due to its involvement in these federal cases. For more on this potential litigation alignment between college participants and Winston & Strawn, let's refer to the Bloomberg.com story.

“The NCAA should stand up and take notice that Jeff is involved,” said Bob Lanza, a former National Basketball Association players’ union general counsel who worked alongside Kessler and is now a partner in O’Neill & Lanza, a professional sports advisory firm. “I can’t think of anybody more qualified to start this type of department.”
Marquette University Athletic Director Larry Williams said in a telephone interview he sided with Keller and O’Bannon.
"I do not think the NCAA should be trading on the image or likeness of any players,” he said yesterday. “If we’re requiring amateurism on one side, we should not be individually commercializing their image and likeness.”
Winston’s college group will be run by partner David Greenspan and associate Tim Nevius, who joined the firm from the NCAA, where he worked as an associate director of enforcement.
“We’re the traditional go-to law firm for people adverse to leagues and associations,” Kessler said on the conference call. “We represent the players, the cities and municipalities, the sponsors and owners who are fighting with their leagues. We’re not the firm that represents the powers.”

I've only highlighted a tiny fraction of what is a long, detailed look by Bloomberg at the current college climate and the differing opinions on if, how, when and why transformative change can come. A revolution of some sorts seems to be forming. Think about what we saw the weekend before last, when nearly two dozen college footbal players took a sharpie to their uniforms and wrote "APU,” referencing “All Players United," a fledgling grassroots effort on behalf of current players to bring awareness to what they feel should be fairness for current and future college athletes.

If those players are able to have a law firm backing their cause, then it's a total, complete game-changer. We could be a ways off from it becoming a reality, but stories like this and efforts depicted above seem to tilt the scale away from the NCAA, bit by bit.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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