March (Appellate) Madness
Authored by: Amanda Norris Ames
It has been a few months since we updated on the O’Bannon antitrust case, where federal judge Claudia Wilken ruled last summer that the NCAA’s amateurism rules violated federal antitrust laws. (You can read our previous articles here, here, here, and here.) But this week, as the rest of the country filled out their brackets and geared up for the start of the NCAA tournament, the NCAA was getting ready for another battle – in the Ninth Circuit. On Tuesday, the appeals court heard oral argument from both the NCAA and plaintiffs’ counsel, as the parties debated the lower court’s decision, which allowed limited compensation for the use of athletes’ name, image, and likenesses.
Central to the parties’ argument was the interpretation of NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, a 1984 case regarding football television rights. While the NCAA lost that case, one statement in that case has become central to the NCAA’s current “amateurism” defense: “To preserve the character and quality of the ‘product,’ athletes must not be paid.” In Tuesday's arguments, some of the judges seemed skeptical of the NCAA’s shifting definition of “pay,” they were also concerned about opening the door to “pay for play.” (The full arguments can be watched here.)
We can expect a ruling in the upcoming months, though this is unlikely to be the final appeal in the case.