The future of college sports is now in the hands of a federal judge in Oakland after a nearly three week trial in June.
If amateur athletes prevail in an antitrust lawsuit claiming the NCAA is a cartel that restrains them from licensing their names and images, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken could issue sweeping orders impacting such TV broadcasters as CBS, Fox and NBC Universal that collectively spend more than two billion dollars on college football and basketball rights each year.
The athletes want to be paid for their role in a business that generates substantial revenue for NCAA schools but nothing except scholarships for its athletes thanks to "amateurism" policies that date to 1906. As conferences ink huge TV deals and top coaches command $7 million salaries, the movement to pay players has gained support from NFL legends past (Joe Theismann) and present (Adrian Peterson).
Imagine that. College students' on-field performances earn colleges and broadcast networks Big Dough. But it gets better. ...
Unionization would probably clear up the question of whether broadcasters own rights to on-field performances. This is an issue addressed indirectly in the O'Bannon case after Judge Wilken raised the specter they might not. Last April, she ruled, "Whether Division I student-athletes hold any ownership rights in their athletic performances does not depend on the scope of broadcasters’ First Amendment rights but, rather, on whether the student-athletes themselves validly transferred their rights of publicity to another party."
The broadcasters were so troubled by the implications of this statement that they asked to brief the judge on why the NCAA should be given an opportunity to appeal. The judge allowed the trial to move ahead anyway, and as a possible outcome, the judge could bar the NCAA from forcing its athletes to sign waivers. ...
See, if colleges stick to the fiction that college athletes are unpaid "amateurs", they they can't be employees. And if they're not employees, then colleges (and broadcasters) can't own rights to the athletes' performances/images as a "work for hire."
Because they haven't, you see, been hired. Quite delicious, methinks. The whole "employees of companies don't own rights to their work. ..." comes back to bite colleges and big-time broadcasters on the backside.