O’Bannon Can Add Current Student Athlete to NCAA Lawsuit

Ed O’Bannon, the college basketball player of the year in 1995, won court permission to add a current student athlete to his antitrust lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, ruled today in a one-page order that the former University of California, Los Angeles forward “may add a new named plaintiff who is a current student-athlete” to the case. The filing doesn’t identify the athlete.

O’Bannon is challenging the right of college sports’ governing body, conferences and schools to keep proceeds from selling the rights to athletes’ likenesses to be used in such things as television broadcasts, videogames and clothes. The plaintiffs say the case may reduce the $6.4 billion in annual revenue universities get from athletics by as much as 50 percent.

A victory for O’Bannon, 40, might upend the model that has developed since Rutgers College defeated what is now Princeton University in the first college football game 144 years ago. Schools would have to share revenue with athletes and possibly drop money-losing sports to offset the cost.

Class Action

Last month, Wilkin heard arguments whether O’Bannon’s suit, now combined with a lawsuit filed by former Arizona State University quarterback Sam Keller, should become a class action, allowing the plaintiffs’ attorneys to sue on behalf of all college football and basketball players.

The plaintiffs are asking to represent and seek damages for all former student athletes in the U.S. who competed in Division I basketball or NCAA football’s top echelon and whose images or names have been included in game footage or video games since July 2005.

The lawsuit began almost four years ago when O’Bannon sued the NCAA and its licensing company, claiming that they agreed to block him and other former college athletes from getting paid for their likenesses in Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) sports videogames after they left college.

Rocky Unruh, a lawyer representing the NCAA, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the judge’s ruling.

The case is Keller v. Electronic Arts Inc., 09-cv-01967, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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