O'Bannon v. NCAA

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O'Bannon v. NCAA
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Full case nameEdward C. O'Bannon, , Jr., On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, aka The NCAA
DecidedSeptember 30, 2015
Citation(s)802 F.3d 1049
Case history
Prior action(s)O'Bannon v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 7 F. Supp. 3d 955 (N.D. Cal. 2014)
Appealed fromUnited States District Court for the Northern District of California
Appealed toSupreme Court of the United States
Subsequent action(s)Cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 277 (2016)
Motion for attorneys' fees granted, No. 4:09-cv-03329, 2016 WL 1255454 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2016), affirmed, 739 F. App'x 890 (9th Cir. 2018)
Court membership
Judges sittingSidney R. Thomas, Jay S. Bybee, Gordon J. Quist
Case opinions
Decision byBybee

O'Bannon v. NCAA, 802 F.3d 1049 (9th Cir. 2015), was an antitrust class action lawsuit filed against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The lawsuit, which former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon filed on behalf of the NCAA's Division I football and men's basketball players, challenges the organization's use of the images and the likeness of its former student athletes for commercial purposes. The suit argues that upon graduation, a former student athlete should become entitled to financial compensation for NCAA's commercial uses of their image.[1][2] The NCAA maintains that paying its athletes would be a violation of its concept of amateurism in sports.[3] At stake are "billions of dollars in television revenues and licensing fees."[4]

On August 8, 2014, District Judge Claudia Wilken found for O'Bannon, holding that the NCAA's rules and bylaws operate as an unreasonable restraint of trade, in violation of antitrust law.[5] The Court said it would separately enter an injunction regarding the specific violations found. In September 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part, the District Court's ruling.[6] In March 2016, O'Bannon's lawyers appealed the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.[7] The Supreme Court denied certiorari on October 3, 2016.[8]


In July 2009, Ed O'Bannon, a former basketball player for UCLA who was a starter on their 1995 national championship team and the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player that year, filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Company, alleging violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act and of actions that deprived him of his right of publicity.[9] He agreed to be the lead plaintiff after seeing his likeness from the 1995 championship team used in the EA Sports title NCAA Basketball 09 without his permission.[10][11] The game featured an unnamed UCLA player who played O'Bannon's power forward position, while also matching his height, weight, bald head, skin tone, No. 31 jersey, and left-handed shot.[12] In January 2011, Oscar Robertson joined O'Bannon in the class action suit.[13] Bill Russell was also among the 20 former college athletes who are plaintiffs.[11] These athletes brought this antitrust class action against the NCAA to challenge the association's rules restricting compensation for men's football and basketball players images and likeness. In particular, the plaintiffs allege that the NCAA's rules and bylaws operate as an unreasonable restraint of trade because they preclude FBS football players and Division I men's basketball players from receiving any compensation—beyond the value of their athletic scholarships—for the use of their names, images, and likenesses in video games, live game telecasts, re-broadcasts, and archival game footage.[14]

Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), both original co-defendants with the NCAA, departed from the case and finalized a $40 million settlement that could net as much as $4,000 to as many as 100,000 current and former athletes who had appeared in EA Sports' NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football series of video games since 2003.[15][16]

Trial and verdict[edit]

The trial against the NCAA lasted from June 9 to June 27, 2014.[17] Final written closing statements were submitted on July 10.[18]

On August 8, 2014, Wilken ruled that the NCAA's long-held practice of barring payments to athletes violated antitrust laws.[19] She ordered that schools should be allowed to offer full cost-of-attendance scholarships to athletes, covering cost-of-living expenses that were not currently part of NCAA scholarships. Wilken also ruled that college be permitted to place as much as $5,000 into a trust for each athlete per year of eligibility.[20]

The NCAA subsequently appealed the ruling,[20] arguing that Wilken did not properly consider NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma. In that case, the NCAA was denied control of college football television rights.[21] The Supreme Court denied the NCAA's appeal.[22] The NCAA was also ordered to pay the plaintiffs $42.2 million in fees and costs.[23]


As a result of O'Bannon, a number of other class-action lawsuits filed by student athletes against the NCAA and colleges followed, challenging other restrictions on educational funds as being anti-competitive. These were combined into a single suit also heard by Judge Wilken, who ruled against the NCAA in March 2019 and required the NCAA to allow students to obtain other non-cash scholarships, internships and other support beyond the full cost-of-attendeance for academic purposes.[24] Some of these benefits include private tutoring, advanced class selection and access to exclusive college benefits. The court worried that allowing college athletes to profit off their name and likeness would allow large schools with large fanbases to offer more money to players. These non-cash benefits are services all colleges can provide which makes the competitive landscape to recruit talent fair for all colleges.[6]

The Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling on appeal, which the Supreme Court affirmed in a unanimous decision in June 2021 in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston.[25][26] On July 1, 2021, the NCAA announced the board had agreed to new rules that removed restrictions on college athletes from entering paid endorsements and other sponsorship deals, and from using agents to manage their publicity. Students would still be required to inform the school of all such activities, with the school to make determinations if those activities violate state and local laws.[27]

EA Sports, which had published the NCAA-sports based games, left that market; NCAA Basketball 10 (published in 2009) was the final game in that series, while the NCAA terminated its license with EA during the events of O'Bannon after the release of NCAA Football 14 (published in 2013) over licensing rates.[28] In February 2021, EA Sports subsequently announced a new series that would be called EA Sports College Football they expect to launch in 2024. It will not use any player likenesses to respect the ruling of O'Bannon, bypassing the NCAA, but will still license college logos, uniforms, and stadiums through the Collegiate Licensing Company.[29]


  1. ^ Streeter, Kurt (July 22, 2009). "Former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon leads suit against NCAA over use of images". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 25, 2009. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  2. ^ "Former Bruin O'Bannon sues NCAA". ESPN.go.com. Associated Press. July 21, 2009. Archived from the original on September 28, 2015. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  3. ^ Pierce, Charles P. (June 20, 2014). "How It Ends". grantland.com. Archived from the original on June 20, 2014.
  4. ^ Pierce, Charlie S. (February 6, 2013). "The O'Bannon Decision". Grantland. Archived from the original on June 6, 2013. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  5. ^ O'Bannon v. NCAA, 7 F. Supp. 3d 955, 1009 (N.D. Cal. 2014) ("[T]he Court finds that this restraint does violate antitrust law").
  6. ^ a b O'Bannon v. NCAA, 802 F.3d 1049 (9th Cir. 2015).
  7. ^ Berkowitz, Steve (March 15, 2016). "O'Bannon plaintiffs ask Supreme Court to take case". USA Today. Archived from the original on March 26, 2016. Retrieved March 27, 2016.
  8. ^ O'Bannon v. NCAA, 137 S. Ct. 277 (2016).
  9. ^ "The NCAA Lawsuit". Frontline. PBS. October 4, 2011. Archived from the original on September 24, 2013. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  10. ^ Shook, Nick (February 13, 2018). "Former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon explains his impact on college sports video games in book". Springfield News-Sun. Archived from the original on August 6, 2019. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  11. ^ a b "NCAA antitrust trial set for June 9". ESPN.com. May 23, 2014. Archived from the original on May 24, 2014.
  12. ^ Fainaru, Steve; Farrey, Tom (July 24, 2014). "Game Changer". ESPN.com. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014.
  13. ^ Wetzel, Dan (January 26, 2011). "Robertson joins suit vs. NCAA". Yahoo! Sports. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  14. ^ "A full review of the O'Bannon v. NCAA judgment - LawInSport". www.lawinsport.com. Archived from the original on April 20, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  15. ^ Munson, Lester (June 8, 2014). "NCAA athletes get their day in court". ESPN.com. Archived from the original on June 11, 2014.
  16. ^ Farrey, Tom (May 31, 2014). "Players, game makers settle for $40M". ESPN.com. Archived from the original on June 11, 2014.
  17. ^ Mandel, Stewart (February 20, 2014). "Judge allows Ed O'Bannon v. NCAA to proceed to trial". SI.com. Archived from the original on April 23, 2014.
  18. ^ Berkowitz, Steve (July 11, 2014). "Closing briefs are in; O'Bannon case in hands of judge". USA Today. Archived from the original on July 16, 2014..
  19. ^ Strauss, Ben; Tracy, Marc (August 8, 2014). "N.C.A.A. Must Allow Colleges to Pay Athletes, Judge Rules". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 20, 2015.
  20. ^ a b Jessop, Alicia (March 13, 2015). "Pay for play: NCAA schools keep eye on legal cases". CNBC.com. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015.
  21. ^ Strauss, Ben (March 18, 2015). "N.C.A.A. Appeal of Ruling in O'Bannon Case Is Heard". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 25, 2015.
  22. ^ Edelman, Marc (October 7, 2016). "By Denying Certiorari In O'Bannon v. NCAA, The Supreme Court Aids Future Reform To College Sports". Forbes. Archived from the original on September 3, 2020. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  23. ^ O'Bannon v. NCAA, 739 F. App'x 890 (9th Cir. 2018).
  24. ^ McCann, Michael (March 8, 2019). "Why the NCAA Lost Its Latest Landmark Case in the Battle Over What Schools Can Offer Athletes". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 16, 2020.
  25. ^ Barnes, Robert; Maese, Rick (December 16, 2020). "Supreme Court will hear NCAA dispute over compensation for student-athletes". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 16, 2020. Retrieved December 16, 2020.
  26. ^ Gresko, Jessica (June 21, 2021). "High court sides with former athletes in dispute with NCAA". Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 24, 2021. Retrieved June 21, 2021 – via The Seattle Times.
  27. ^ Dixon, Schuyler (July 1, 2021). "NCAA clears way for athlete compensation as state laws loom". Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 30, 2021. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  28. ^ Bailey, Kat (February 5, 2021). "How EA Is Bringing Back College Football and Sidestepping the NCAA's Biggest Problems". Vice. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  29. ^ Ivan, Tom (February 2, 2021). "EA stock reaches all-time high after it announces new college football game". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on February 2, 2021. Retrieved February 2, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • O'Bannon, Ed; McCann, Michael (2018). Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA. Diversion Books. ISBN 978-1635762624.