NCAA attorney: Lawsuit 'threatens college sports as we know it'

Mark Emmert's NCAA is under serious legal fire. (USATSI)
Mark Emmert's NCAA is under serious legal fire. (USATSI)
So: Would a victory for the plaintiffs in the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit be a much-needed course correction to finally end the shameful exploitation of the NCAA's highest revenue-producing athletes, or an athletic apocalypse that would see thousands of athletes "going pro in something other than sports" lose their chance at a degree as their scholarship money is funneled to a relative handful of football and men's baketball players?

For now, it depends on which side's lawyer you ask. And if you ask NCAA chief legal counsel Donald Remy, he'll tell you the latter description above isn't an exaggeration.

"College sports today are valued by the student-athletes who compete and all of us who support them," Remy said Friday, per the Associated Press. "However, the plaintiffs' lawyers in the likeness case now want to make this about professionalizing a few current student-athletes to the detriment of all others. Their scheme to pay a small number of student-athletes threatens college sports as we know it.

"In particular, we would lose the very real opportunity for at least 96 percent of NCAA male and female student-athletes who do not compete in Division I men's basketball or FBS football to play a sport and get an education, as they do today." 

Remy was responding to the Thursday announcement that six current football players have joined the O'Bannon suit as plaintiffs, fulfilling the presiding judge's requirement before she rules on whether the suit can proceed as a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA. 

Decisions against the NCAA in the suit could force its members to split television revenues with players in those revenue-producing sports. But the suit also names EA Sports as a defendant. EA Sports is the videogame company that has allegedly used the likenesses of real-world college athletes (like O'Bannon) without payment -- or payment, that is, for anyone other than the NCAA and its schools.

The NCAA announced this week it would not renew its licensing agreement with EA Sports (though the company's agreement with the Collegiate Licensing Company means the game will continue, perhaps largely unchanged). 

"It's apparent to us that the NCAA's decision to end its long and hugely profitable relationship with EA is tied directly to the pressure our litigation is bringing the bear," lead counsel for the O'Bannon plaintiffs Steve Berman said Friday, per the AP. "Our suit illustrates how the cabal between the NCAA and EA has exploited student athletes for years, using their images in video games without compensation. While we are heartened they've stopped the practice, we believe they owe those student-athletes a great deal more than their implied promise to stop stealing their images."

Whichever side college sports fans believe, it seems increasingly clear the court's choice of which side it believes could have major ramifications for the NCAA ... and all the sports it oversees. 

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