A lawsuit filed by 10 former college football and basketball players alleging that their images were used improperly without their permission by broadcast networks and eight NCAA conferences was dismissed by a federal judge.
Chief District Judge Kevin H. Sharp ruled that the former players were not entitled to monetary compensation by the networks or conferences. He dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments that were based in publicity law, trademark statute and antitrust law and claimed that broadcast networks and the NCAA conferences were attempting to exploit rules that prohibited college athletes from making money.
Despite his ruling, Sharp did recognize that college football and basketball are “big business.”
Sharp wrote, "Many believe that 'amateur' when applied to college athletes today is a misnomer, an artificial label and anathema, placed on players, like Plaintiffs, whose efforts on the court and field lead to untold riches for others, such as (the TV networks and conferences). "Cogent arguments have been raised that it is time student-athletes share in the bounty, above and beyond any scholarships they may receive."
He went on to say that the issue of paying college athletes is not one for the court to decide, and instead, the court must determine whether the plaintiffs put forward enough evidence to prove that they are entitled to compensation for playing in televised games. In this case, he did not believe the former players did so.
Of the 10 athletes who filed suit, nine of them played for schools in Tennessee. The plaintiffs include three former Vanderbilt football players, two former Tennessee football players, a former Chattanooga football player, a former Tennessee State basketball player, and a Nashville native who played basketball at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Javon Marshall played for Vanderbilt and said in a press release, "I agreed to be a plaintiff in this lawsuit because ESPN doesn't own my image, I do. While TV networks and college sports leagues make billions of dollars off the images of college athletes like me, college athletes get no compensation. Nowhere else in America do the creators of a multibillion-dollar enterprise go unpaid for their effort."
The ruling in this case comes after a California judge issued an injunction to stop the NCAA from restricting players from licensing their names and images. This ruling meant that players could be compensated beyond the value of their scholarships and suggested that money be held in a trust payable to the student when they leave their school.
Players, including former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, brought the California case to court, and the case made some of the same arguments as the Tennessee case. The California case went before a federal appeals court in San Francisco for argument in March, and the judges were not impressed by the NCAA’s argument that federal case law allows the NCAA to preserve its amateurism system without being subject to antitrust law.
However, the judges in this case also questioned whether the players have sufficiently shown that they are being harmed by not receiving compensation from the NCAA for the use of their names, images, and likenesses in live broadcasts.
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