O'Bannon Trial: If players are paid, balance is affected

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- NCAA attorney Rohit Singla was not going to let the first week of the O'Bannon v. NCAA trial end quietly. In front of him was Daniel Rascher, a plaintiffs' expert on sports economics, a man who once had filed a report that included a proposed model of a 50/50 split of TV revenues between the schools and college football and basketball players that was based off the collective bargaining agreements in the NFL and NBA.

Never mind that Rascher's model no longer was relevant to the case in a legal sense. He originally had included it back when the plaintiffs also were pursuing individual damages, and his goal was to try to estimate the losses they incurred over the years by not having the rights to license their names, images and likenesses for live television broadcasts. But the scope of the case changed when the plaintiffs recently chose to pursue only injunctive relief, seeking reform instead of compensation and therefore turning the case from a jury trial to a bench affair.

O’Bannon Trial: Day 5

Developments: The plaintiffs' expert witness for sports economics, Dr. Daniel Rascher, said football and basketball would remain as popular, if not more, if players were compensated for their names, images and likenesses; competitive balance does not exist, so the change would be minimal; and Division I universities would compete more vigorously if restraints were lifted. He showed data about baseball and Olympic TV network deals increasing dramatically after restrictions on player compensation were lifted. NCAA attorney Rohit Singla countered that Nielsen TV ratings have been going down in the same time period. Attorney Bill Isaacson pointed out that ratings have been down for all programming because of the increase in channels offered.

Impact: Isaacson got the last word in on whether baseball and the Olympics have increased their popularity and value in the marketplace.

What's ahead: Former Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham took the stand for 30 minutes Friday and will continue his testimony Monday.

If Judge Claudia Ann Wilken rules in favor of the certified class of former and current players, all she would have is the capability of prohibiting the NCAA from restricting its athletes from operating in an open market. She would not make suggestions on how the organization, conferences and schools should organize the new world of college sports. Yet, throughout the opening salvos of this antitrust trial, Judge Wilken has been open to hearing any theories on less restrictive methods that could be utilized. She has not at any point tried to speed counsel along when talking big-picture hypotheticals, while not having much patience in comparison for repetitive legal tedium.

And so it was again Friday, as Singla prepared an assault on Rascher that was aimed to buoy the NCAA's crucial contention that paying players for the use of their names, images and likenesses would further hurt competitive balance. (Rascher had spent the morning pointing out that concept did not currently exist anyway.)

"Let's take Vanderbilt," Singla said.

Singla had taken Rascher's data on Southeastern Conference TV revenues for football and done a little math. The result, he said, was that under Rascher's model a Vanderbilt player would have made about $325,000 over five years.

"At Memphis, how much would the number be?" Singla continued.

At Memphis, which formerly played in Conference USA but now plays in the American Athletic Conference, each player would make $14,000 over five years.

"Vanderbilt plays in the SEC that has a billion-dollar TV contract," Rascher explained.

"I'm not asking why," Singla said. "What we're saying is, in your model, if we take it seriously, athletes would get $325,000 at Vanderbilt and at Memphis $14,000."

"The conferences will pick a model that satisfies their needs," Rascher countered.

The professor and director of academic programs for the Sport Management Program at the University of San Francisco had not only offered a 50/50 model in his report. He also had included one positing a range of 10 to 20 percent going to the athletes, but the NCAA was happy to run with the 50/50 because it inflated the numbers.

"The NCAA was always mad about the damages case," plaintiffs' attorney Bill Isaacson said afterward. "They're still mad about it."

Singla kept at Rascher, switching to college basketball, where his math revealed that Pac-12 teams would pay their players about $1.2 million over five years, while players at Idaho would receive about $330,000 over five years. (Those figures are based on the 50/50 model, and it is highly unlikely that college basketball players would be considered to be worth more than college football players.)

"The conferences can choose what they can do," Rascher said again. "That's the whole point of competition."

The Big Five conferences -- the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- already have asked for more autonomy from NCAA rules, which the organization has at least preliminarily granted. The NCAA knows change is coming; it is only trying to limit the damages, and keeping TV revenues away from players would do that and, it believes, give more schools a chance to compete at a high level.

"I don't think right now there's any sport that has absolutely perfect competitive balance on all the teams," NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said. "Whatever competitive balance we have would be worsened by their proposal."

Afterward, Isaacson and fellow attorney Michael Hausfeld elaborated on the possibility of conferences deciding their own limits on player payments for TV revenues. They said it would not be an antitrust violation as they believe it is with the NCAA doing it.

"That's like, all of a sudden, you have a whole range of companies, the conferences, competing against one another, instead of just one monopoly," Isaacson said. "When two gas stations across the street are looking at each other's signs and one lowers his price, the other one lowers his price. That's good. That's not an agreement."

Hausfeld added: "Look at what's happening with regard to networks. One conference starts a network, now another conference starts a network, then each one is competing to outdo the other. You've got competition for network value of revenue. A group of schools can say we're going to form one business [a conference] and compete against all these other businesses. So the SEC is not a monopoly in the way the NCAA is."

J. Brady McCollough: bmccollough@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BradyMcCollough.

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