O'Bannon Trial: Former player testifies about eligibility requirements

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Later this summer, before each player at a Division I-A football program will put on his pads for the first practice, he will be handed a stack of forms and a pen.

Included in this bundle of paper will be NCAA Form 13-3a, the "Student-Athlete Statement," in which the governing body of college sports will ask the player to sign his name six times, and a sheet from the school's athletic compliance department that also requests a signature.

Some players will take the time to read what they're signing. Some will skim it. Some won't bother looking at all. No matter the contents, the reality is that they must scrawl their name where desired in order to play big-time college football.

For three seasons, Chase Garnham had signed the forms provided him by Vanderbilt without giving it too much thought. But now he was on the stand Monday morning to begin the second week of the Ed O'Bannon v. NCAA antitrust class-action trial, talking about the one time he decided to question exactly what he was signing over to his school, the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA.

"Senior year when I read this form, my views had changed," Garnham said. "I did not feel comfortable signing this form."

O'Bannon trial: Day 6

• Developments: Former Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham questioned having to sign a consent form that gave the school, the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA the chance to profit from his name, image and likeness. Ellen Staurowsky, a plaintiffs' expert and the director of the sport management program at Drexel University, laid out for Judge Claudia Ann Wilken all the ways in which college sports have been commercialized. The NCAA attorney, Luis Li, began his cross-examination and tried to discredit Staurowsky as an expert on college sports affairs.

• Impact: Garnham and Staurowsky combined to paint a picture of how athletics and academics are not as integrated as the NCAA states.

• What's ahead: Li will finish his cross-examination Staurowsky and then the NCAA will call Texas women's athletic director Christine Plonsky to the stand.

In mid-July 2013, Garnham, a starting linebacker for the Commodores from Fairhope, Ala., had joined with five other current college football players as plaintiffs with O'Bannon. He had followed the litigation, which began in 2009, and come to the conclusion that he did not believe players should be restricted by the NCAA from profiting from the use of the names, images and likenesses while they were on campus.

So, later that month, as he considered the Vanderbilt Compliance Student Image Consent form -- which was intended to "grant permission for all sports contests, practices, news conferences and related sports events in which I participate" to be broadcast and rebroadcast -- he chose to instead talk to the school's athletic director, David Williams, and the compliance director, Candice Lee, about his options.

Did he truly have no choice but to sign the form in order to play? Vanderbilt might have been an academic institution with a sterling reputation compared to the rest of the SEC, but the fact was, Garnham felt he was there to play football. He said he sensed that there was some confusion between Williams and Lee about whether he could remain eligible to play without signing, and so that confusion was enough to make him sign -- although he would do it on his terms.

On July 31, he signed the form but wrote a note at the bottom that began, "With the understanding that I had to sign in order to play."

Garnham missed seven games of his senior season due to injury. He went undrafted by the NFL and did not get invited back by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a recent tryout. He says his dream of playing professionally is over. He graduated with a degree in Human and Organizational Development -- a major that plaintiffs expert Ellen Staurowsky would later point to as being clustered with Vanderbilt football and basketball players -- and he is currently unemployed.

"Did you think of yourself as a student who just happened to be an athlete?" attorney Sathya Gosselin asked.

"I would say athlete first, student second," Garnham said, mirroring the comments made by plaintiffs O'Bannon and Tyrone Prothro last week.

It is important for the plaintiffs' case to show that, by spending 40-hour weeks playing their sport, they were essentially employees who were given full scholarships in exchange for the university's use of their athletic gifts.

Staurowsky, the professor and director of sport management at Drexel University who co-wrote the book "College Athletes For Hire" in 1998, testified Monday that the term "student-athlete" was simply an invention by then-NCAA president Walter Byers in the 1950s to protect the organization against workers compensation liabilities. Her contention was that it is as ambiguous as any attempts at defining the word "amateurism."

She cited an NCAA player survey in which 31 percent of college basketball players and 30 percent of college football players self-reported they took classes "primarily to stay eligible to compete." She cited numerous examples of players in those sports having lower graduation rates than the average male in the student body.

Garnham ended up graduating, but he said initially he did not know what he wanted to major in at Vanderbilt. Like O'Bannon and Prothro before him, he said was encouraged to get a degree in a subject that would be easier to manage with his football responsibilities.

This led to NCAA attorney Carolyn Luedtke pointing out that some of his fellow graduating seniors had gotten engineering degrees. She exhibited tweets from Garnham's Twitter account that detailed how much he enjoyed watching hour upon hour of television during his free time away from football and schoolwork.

Luedtke ended her cross-examination by stating that Garnham had gotten four years of education at Vanderbilt for a total of about $200,000.

"Vanderbilt brought me value, I brought them value," Garnham had said earlier. "The only difference is that Vanderbilt was able to capitalize off that value, and I was not."

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

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