In the midst of a case that could transform the amateur status of Division I college athletes, the NCAA and Big 12 Conference are concerned enough that they have hired lobbying firms to support their protection of the current system.
The NCAA spent $1.6 million on lobbying from 2003 to 2012, the Center for Public Integrity reported last year, but it relied on in-house support. Since the end of April, the NCAA has enlisted the services of a firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, according to The Hill, through Senate disclosure forms that only turned up recently. Former Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) of Polsinelli PC signed with the Big 12 at the beginning of the month.
Arguments are underway in day eight of the Ed O'Bannon v. NCAA trial, and NCAA president Mark Emmert is set to testify Thursday at the proceedings in Oakland. O'Bannon, who won a national basketball title with UCLA, is one of 20 named plaintiffs, including NBA legends Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson, challenging the NCAA for monopolizing the market on college athletes and fixing prices.
The plaintiffs claim that the NCAA has sustained an antitrust arrangement limiting the rights and compensation potential of college athletes, who serve as revenue-generators for schools. Division I universities have collectively maintained an unbalanced system, the plaintiffs argue, and the NCAA shuts players out of earning money for the usage of their images and likenesses.
The trial, which is being argued in front of District Court judge Claudia Wilken and not a jury, started last Monday with testimony from O’Bannon, who said that basketball consumed 40-45 hours of his weekly activity. Meanwhile, he could only focus on academics for about 12 hours per week.
Two NCAA witnesses defended amateurism Wednesday morning, with one saying that the student-athlete model leads to better academic outcomes. On Tuesday, Texas women's athletic director Christine Plonsky explained that changing the system would undermine campus life.
"I don't believe that our university would approve of an activity where a segment of our student-athlete population was professionalized," Plonsky said on the stand, after a professor from Drexel University argued that the definition of amateurism has regularly transformed to suit the NCAA’s interests.
Texas is the most prominent member of the Big 12, which shared a record $220 million of revenue in 2013-14. The conference is spending approximately $1.5 million on legal fees for the O’Bannon case and other lawsuits.
The O’Bannon trial comes on the heels of a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board's Chicago office granting Northwestern football players the right to form a union. The Northwestern case is under appeal, and results of the team's vote on whether to form a players’ union are not yet available.
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