Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

NCAA facing suit over likenesses, licensing for athletes

Ed O’Bannon, who helped lead UCLA to the 1995 national championship, is the biggest name in the lawsuit vs. the NCAA.

Getty Images (1995)

Ed O’Bannon, who helped lead UCLA to the 1995 national championship, is the biggest name in the lawsuit vs. the NCAA.

ST. PETERSBURG — They see their old numbers on replica jerseys still worn proudly by fans at college football and basketball games. They see their likenesses used in successful video games and their biggest college games rebroadcast on channels like ESPN Classic.

And a group of former college athletes have a question for the courts: Why aren't they being compensated when others are making money off their college playing days?

"It's compelling because it's one of the last vestiges of abuse in terms of exploitation of people's work performance," said Michael Hausfeld, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing 15 former athletes in a class-action lawsuit filed two years ago against the NCAA and its licensing representative, Collegiate Licensing Company.

The case — known publicly as O'Bannon vs. NCAA because the best-known plaintiff is former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon — is expected to continue in the discovery phase until late this year, with a court trial possible by next summer. Another lawsuit was filed by former Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller (who was on the Bucs' roster in 2008 preseason) specifically against video game giant Electronic Arts Inc.

The issue was brought up in May by ESPN analyst and former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard when he spoke at the national convention of Black Coaches and Administrators at the Vinoy in St. Petersburg, with NCAA president Mark Emmert present.

"My fight is that if you use my likeness, I should be compensated," Howard said. "If you sell a jersey with my number or my name on the back, I should be compensated. I think it's wicked that you have 17- and 18-year-old kids sign scholarships that give their rights to the NCAA far beyond their playing days. Really?"

The NCAA reiterates that it does not acquire or license student-athletes' likenesses or prevent them from doing so — in most instances, the national letter of intent signed by athletes includes only a clause that allows the NCAA to use their name or picture to promote NCAA championships or other events and activities.

The perception is still there that athletes deserve more than a degree to show for their college careers. Howard wasn't done railing against the money being made off the accomplishments of former college athletes.

"I think … it's damn near indentured servitude," Howard told his Vinoy audience. "You control my likeness forever. How did we sign a deal where you get something forever and I get something on a year-by-year basis? If I want to go get my Ph.D. from Michigan, you should pay for it. You should be committed to my education for the rest of my life."

Moments after that, Emmert was asked about the case, and while measured in his words, he seemed to show sympathy to Howard and other athletes who feel the same way he does.

"I have to be very careful with my responses, because we do have an active lawsuit going on," Emmert said. "I won't talk at all about the specifics of the likeness case. I will say it is a complex issue that has gotten and will continue to get more complicated. Media rights change very rapidly, and the need to respond to those changes is acute. We certainly need to think carefully about all those policies. I'm trying real hard not to get myself in trouble with my lawyers: Desmond didn't say anything that offended me."

The lawsuit's scope has since expanded, with cease-and-desist letters being sent to ESPN and other major networks that broadcast college sports, suggesting they do not have the right to show archived images, names and likenesses without the athletes' permission. Royalties that go to the NCAA and CLC would be placed in escrow, according to the letters, asking that networks negotiate contracts with individual athletes.

The logistical challenge of tracking down every player participating in a football game, for instance, would seem an insurmountable challenge, let alone the task of deciding how compensation is determined over the course of 100 or so individual negotiations.

"The exact same practice is prevalent in professional sports," Hausfeld said. "The broadcasters pay a licensing fee for the use of those names, likenesses and images, which goes to the athletes themselves. … That portion of the license fee rightfully belongs to the athletes themselves and no one else."

NCAA facing suit over likenesses, licensing for athletes 07/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 4, 2011 9:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31

    Blogs

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  2. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win

    Blogs

    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    RHP Jake Odorizzi admitted he probably should have gone on the DL sooner than late July for the back stiffness that was keeping him from throwing the ball where he wanted to. He has since found an impressive groove, with another strong outing Saturday.

  4. Matt Baker's takeaways from Florida State-N.C. State

    College

    RB Cam Akers still looks like a former high school quarterback at times. His first two touches (30 yards) were special, but the freshman juked instead of powering ahead on his third (an unsuccessful third-and-1 rush). That's why the Seminoles are easing him in, as they did with Dalvin Cook three years ago.

    Running back Cam Akers carries for a first down during the third quarter as FSU eases the freshman into the college game.
  5. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.