Federal judge Claudia Wilken, who is overseeing the case against the NCAA brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and other current and former players, announced Tuesday that she would allow the NCAA, EA Sports, and the Collegiate Licensing Company to again seek the case’s dismissal. O’Bannon and other players sued the NCAA, EA Sports, and the CLC for violating antitrust law by conspiring to fix their value at zero and refusing to compensate them for use of their names, images, and likenesses.
Wilken had already denied a motion to dismiss the case in January, but she granted the opportunity this time in part because plaintiffs’ attorneys amended their complaint to add television revenues last year and six current college athletes earlier this summer.
Wilken wrote that the court was “reluctant to delay this case further, but finds itself compelled to allow an additional round of motions … due to Defendants’ insistence on pursuing all available procedural steps, and the untimely changes in Plaintiffs’ theory of the case,” according to Al.com. “Although these defendants have already had ample opportunity to respond to Antitrust Plaintiffs’ new theory … the Court nevertheless grants their request,” Wilken wrote. “Defendants may intend to seek an interlocutory appeal of any class certification order, and the Court does not wish to leave open a claim that they were not allowed to present all of their arguments.”
The last sentence in that excerpt is key to understanding why Wilken is allowing another dismissal motion to proceed. Wilken will decide at some point this year whether to certify the players’ complaints as a class action suit, opening the case to thousands of former and current college athletes and potentially leaving the NCAA vulnerable for billions of dollars in damages — especially since the complaint is based in antitrust law, which stipulates that defendants like the NCAA, EA Sports, and CLC pay three times the damages if they lose at trial. Certifying a class complaint could turn O’Bannon’s suit into a landmark case against the NCAA, one that could potentially upend the current amateur system and would almost surely proceed through the appeals process and perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.
In allowing every procedural motion, even those she finds “untimely” and those she is “reluctant” to grant, Wilken is attempting to protect herself and the ruling she may ultimately make in a trial next year from possible appeal claims. No judge wants to have her cases overturned on appeal, particularly for procedural reasons and especially in a case as impactful as O’Bannon’s could turn out to be. It’s still almost impossible to imagine her dismissing the case at this juncture, but instead of hastening the process, Wilken is slowing it and ensuring that each side gets its voice heard on every possible claim.
In the same decision, Wilken denied the NCAA’s motion to delay the start of the O’Bannon trial 15 months from its scheduled June 9, 2014 start date.