What's next for student athletes?

A lawsuit by former college and professional basketball player Edward O'Bannon has the potential of upending the basic premise that collegiate athletes are amateurs. It could also disintegrate, although neither side is letting up after four years in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

O'Bannon had alleged numerous antitrust violations against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Collegiate Licensing Co. (CLC), the NCAA's licensing representative and an affiliate of IMG Worldwide Inc. (formerly the Cleveland-based International Management Group).

The lawsuit's allegations cover a wide range of activities and center around the NCAA forms that require student athletes to give up rights in the use of their names and likenesses during and after their amateur careers as student athletes.

Because of the forms that the NCAA and the CLC require student athletes to sign, the student athletes give up all rights to compensation for the use of their college-level images on TV and in other media as well as in video games.

Several weeks ago, the parties announced a tentative settlement with the CLC and EA Sports, which produces video games through licensing with the CLC. The settlement, which requires court approval, is reportedly in the range of $40 million. While the terms have not been released, EA Sports has announced that beginning in 2014 it will no longer produce its popular NCAA Football video game. It was unclear how any settlement money would be distributed among athletes, whether individually or as a class.

O'Bannon is continuing to press his action against the NCAA, and is seeking to have the matter certified as a class action on behalf of himself and other college athletes. In early November, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken granted partial class-action certification for future claims but not for players claiming past damages, citing the difficulty in determining what those damages might be.

Earlier, the judge rejected the NCAA's argument that a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision banned collegiate players from being paid. Meanwhile, the NCAA attacked the basis for a class action. It cited depositions from players saying that better athletes should be paid more than those on the bench, claiming that nullified a single class and therefore class-action certification also.

Presumably, the settlement with the CLC and EA Sports will include payments to former and current student athletes. It also raises several other issues the NCAA must address, such as whether and how the settlement affects waiver forms in the future.

The major question is the eventual status of the NCAA's amateur rules. The answer will rest on the next steps in the parts of the suit that remain unsettled and may end up on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

—Jim Juliano