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As everyone hustled to get their brackets filled out for the start of March Madness on Tuesday, a three judge panel for the 9th Circuit United States Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Tuesday on the controversial subject of paying college athletes.

In 2009, O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, brought suit against the NCAA alleging that NCAA violated federal anti-trust laws. At issue was the commercial use of the athlete’s names, images and likeness. The District Court originally found that the NCAA was violating anti-trust law, and allowed for yearly payments to athletes for use of their names, images and likeness while the athlete is academically eligible. The Court gave NCAA some flexibility, permitting a cap on these payments at no less than $5,000.00 a year, and also allowed for the funds to be held in a trust until the athlete’s departure from the school or the expiration of the athlete’s eligibility. While colleges would not have to offer the payments, it could put them at a competitive disadvantage. The NCAA appealed this decision last year.

The NCAA is relying, among other things on the 1984 decision handed down in Board of Regents, which opined that the NCAA needs “ample latitude” to play the role of maintaining the “amateurism in college sports.” The NCAA continues to argue that there should be a line between amateur athletics and professional athletics. O’Bannon and his attorneys counter that not paying athletes is anti-competitive and that the Board of Regents decision did not grant the NCAA anti-trust immunity. The 9th Circuit is expected to hand down a decision in the next few months. However, the 9th Circuit is the most reversed appellate court in the United States, so even this decision might not be the end to this long-time debate.

Allison Romelfanger is an Associate Attorney at Lardiere McNair LLC.  To read more about Allison, please visit

Sources: National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Board of Regents, 468 U.S. 85, 104 S. Ct. 2948 (1984); O’Bannon v. NCAA, 7 F. Supp. 3d 955, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110036, 2014 WL 3899815 (N.D. Cal. 2014); Jon Solomon, O’Bannon vs. NCAA: A Cheat Sheet for NCAA’s Appeal of Paying, accessed March 20, 2015.


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