A former Vanderbilt University football linebacker testified that he protested the policy that bars college athletes from sharing the billions of dollars in revenue generated by broadcasts of their games as ex-players seek to overturn the ban.
Chase Garnham said today that in 2013, his final year playing for the Vanderbilt Commodores, he felt uncomfortable with a National Collegiate Athletic Association waiver requiring him to give up licensing rights for the use of his name and image in games, so he wrote on the form “I had to sign in order to play.”
“I brought Vanderbilt value and Vanderbilt brought me value,” he said. “The only difference is they were able to capitalize off it and I was not.”
The NCAA is defending itself in federal court in Oakland, California, against claims that it conspires with member schools in an illegal cartel that reaps the proceeds from televised college basketball and football games and cuts athletes out of the profit. Under NCAA regulations that treat athletes as amateurs, they can be stripped of their scholarships and barred from playing if they accept payment.
The NCAA had $912 million in total revenue last year, including $838 million from television, championships and marketing-rights fees, according to its financial statement.
The case, which alleges violations of antitrust laws, is part of a movement by current and former college athletes to secure compensation, greater medical benefits and control over their images. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, California, will decide the outcome without a jury in a trial now in its second week and scheduled to end around June 27.
Garnham follows other former players and sports economists who have testified that the NCAA deprives student athletes of compensation they deserve, even as college athletics has become as commercialized as professional sports. The athletes are asking Wilken to order the NCAA to stop barring them from negotiating their own deals in games that are broadcast.
The NCAA claims the athletes’ lawsuit is baseless because its amateur model is legal and serves players and schools. It also benefits fans, who attract advertisers that pay big money to NCAA broadcasting partners and who have said in surveys that they oppose compensating athletes. Paying players would pit schools against each other to attract top talent, and cause some to stop fielding teams and fans to leave in droves, the NCAA contends.
Garnham testified that by the time he entered his senior year at Vanderbilt, his “opinion had changed” about the licensing waiver he had signed in previous years.
“I was told that I would not be able to play if I didn’t’sign the form, so I added the paragraph,” he said.
Garnham said he was aware of the potential for punishment if he were to violate NCAA rules against profiting from his own commercial use of his name in college, such as selling autographs or photos. While that policy wouldn’t bar him from selling his name after he graduated in December, he said, he hasn’t done so. “
“My signature had more value then,” he said.
He said he’s now unemployed after his “dream” of playing for the National Football League ended recently following a tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On cross-examination, an attorney for the NCAA pointed to an e-mail Vanderbilt sent to Garnham in response to his signature protest.
The message from the school compliance officer said, “As I explained, you were not required to sign these portions of the form to be eligible to play.”
“Being eligible to play is different in my mind from playing,” Graham responded. “I saw this e-mail as compliance covering their tracks legally. It was made clear to me I would not be able to play if I did not sign.”
The case is In Re NCAA Student-Athlete Name and Likeness Licensing Litigation, 09-01967, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).