OAKLAND, Calif. – The battle to give top football and basketball players a cut of the billions of dollars flowing into college athletics began in earnest with former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon taking the stand in federal court to describe how he spent long hours working on his game, and as few as possible on his grades.
The lead plaintiff in a landmark antitrust suit against the NCAA said his goal at UCLA wasn't to get a degree, but to get 2 years of college experience before being drafted into the NBA.
"I was an athlete masquerading as a student," O'Bannon said Monday. "I was there strictly to play basketball. I did basically the minimum to make sure I kept my eligibility academically, so I could continue to play."
O'Bannon portrayed himself as a dedicated athlete, who would stay after games to work on his shot if he played poorly, but an indifferent student at best. His job at UCLA, he said, was to play basketball and took up so much time that just making it to class a few hours a day was difficult.
O'Bannon, who led UCLA to a national championship in 1995, said he spent 40 to 45 hours a week either preparing for games or playing them, and only about 12 hours a week on his studies. He changed his major from communications to U.S. history after an academic adviser suggested it would be the easiest fit for his basketball schedule.
"There were classes I took that were not easy classes, but they fit my basketball schedule so I could make it to basketball practice," O'Bannon said.
The testimony came as a trial that could upend the way college sports are regulated opened, 5 years after the suit was filed. O'Bannon and 19 other plaintiffs are asking U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken for an injunction that would allow athletes to sell the rights to their own images in television broadcasts and rebroadcasts.
If successful, the plaintiffs in the class-action case – who are not asking for individual damages – could pave the way for a system that uses some of the huge money flowing into television contracts to pay athletes for their play, once they are done with their college careers.
Also on the stand Monday was a Stanford economics and antitrust expert, who testified the NCAA acts as a cartel by fixing the price of scholarships for athletes and not allowing them to make any more money by prohibiting them from selling their names, images or likenesses (NILs) either as individuals or groups.
Roger Noll said every expert opinion he's seen over the last 30 years agrees the NCAA violates antitrust laws by paying nothing for the rights, and imposing rules that would punish athletes for trying to profit from their NILs.