Infographic: This Lawsuit Could End the NCAA As You Know It

Today’s class certification hearing will help decide whether college athletes get compensated—and whether the NCAA remains relevant.

Nearly four years ago, former University of California-Los Angeles basketball star Ed O’Bannon sued (PDF) the National Collegiate Athletic Association and trademark and licensing firm Collegiate Licensing Co. for using his likeness in video games, TV shows, and a variety of other media—all without paying him. O’Bannon had signed a waiver granting the NCAA permission to use his image before starting his career at UCLA, but he argued that the NCAA had violated antitrust laws in partnering with CLC and others to keep student-athletes from getting paid.

Today, the case comes to a major crossroads as a federal judge hears arguments on whether to certify current and former college athletes as a class—a decision that could lead to an enormous restructuring of college sports as we know them.

Law professor Michael McCann has more on the legal issues at play over at As it stands, US District Judge Claudia Wilken has three options following today’s hearing: to deny class certification, to certify the class for former players only, or to certify the class for current and former players.

If Wilken doesn’t certify the class, then individual athletes would have to sue the NCAA; if she certifies it for former players only, the NCAA could survive what would be a pretty sizable settlement. But if Wilken includes current players in class certification, argues Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples, then all hell could break loose for the NCAA:

This is the one over which all those attorneys have salivated. Bringing in current players means bringing in current TV deals. All those contracts with ESPN and Fox that the major conferences nearly tore themselves to pieces over? They’d be in play. Conference networks for the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC? They’d be in play. McCann writes that this option probably would induce a settlement, but I’m not so sure. Bringing all these elements into the mix would cause a severe spike in the price of a settlement. Had the NCAA and conferences gone to the plaintiffs after the January ruling and offered to set aside a modest cut of the annual profits for athletes—payable upon graduation—the plaintiffs probably would have settled. If this happens? The plaintiffs will ask for the moon.

To understand what “asking for the moon” could mean, here’s a handy infographic showing how big a business the nonprofit NCAA has become:

ncaa infographic



In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.