OAKLAND — Nearly five years after it was filed on behalf of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA began Monday before U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken. The case potentially has huge implications for the future of college sports.
The trial began with an announcement: A settlement was reached over college-themed basketball and football video games produced by Electronic Arts. The agreement will end the Sam Keller litigation and provide a monetary settlement to a class of video game plaintiffs.
The Keller case had been separated from the O’Bannon case. The settlement will award $20 million to certain Division I men’s basketball and Division I Bowl Subdivision football student-athletes, who attended certain institutions during the years the games were sold.
The NCAA will grant a waiver for current athletes who were in the video games to receive their portion of the settlement.
“Consistent with the terms of a court-approved settlement, the NCAA will allow a blanket eligibility waiver for any currently enrolled student-athletes who receive funds connected with the settlement. In no event do we consider this settlement pay for athletics performance,” NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said.
The case had been set for trial in March 2015. Claims could have been worth around $100 million if case had gone to trial.
“With the games no longer in production and the plaintiffs settling their claims with EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company, the NCAA viewed a settlement now as an appropriate opportunity to provide complete closure to the video game plaintiffs,” Remy said.
After the announcement on the separate case, O’Bannon took the stand.
During his testimony, O’Bannon said he spent 40-45 hours a week on “basketball activities” and that he could not take certain classes, speech and drama for instance, because of his basketball responsibilities.
“My priority was playing ball,” he said, noting that he missed perhaps 35 classes because of travel during the season.
OBannon says became aware of image being used in video games in 2008, when a friend’s son showed him the game, and “there I was.”
O’Bannon recognized the UCLA jersey No. 31, the left-handed shot and the complexion.
He said he was never asked and certainly did not grant permission to have his likeness used in a video game.
O’Bannon’s testimony, before cross-examination by NCAA lawyers, took less than an hour and focused mainly on establishing that in his mind playing basketball was emphasized more than academics and that he never consented to having his likeness used.
The NCAA’s cross-examination began by trying to show that O’Bannon’s college experience was good and worthwhile.
“Is this free UCLA education something that is still very valuable to you today?” Glenn Pomerantz, the NCAA’s lead outside attorney asked. “Um, yes it is,” O’Bannon said.