The NCAA’s Image Issues

August 11, 2014

In 2014 a judge granted Northwestern University’s football players collective bargaining rights. Although it was later overturned, this landmark decision heightened the debate about compensation for college athletes to a whole new level, and it didn’t take long for another major legal ruling to follow it. In early August a U.S. district judged found in favor of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others regarding the image rights of athletes. According to the ruling, the NCAA violates anti-trust laws by working with colleges and conferences to deny revenues to athletes for use of their images in broadcasts and video games.

Granted, this does not mean that athletes will be getting paid while they’re still attending school. The injunction issued by the judge states that money generated by television contracts should be placed in a trust fund for athletes that will be paid to them when they finish college. And athletes can’t rack up professional-grade paydays, either: the ruling allows the NCAA to place a cap on the amount of money a player can earn in his or her trust. Although the exact figures aren’t determined yet, player’s image earnings are expected to be capped at $5,000 per year. That means a four-year athlete could wind up with a $20,000 payout once graduation day arrives.

It took O’Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs five years of fighting to earn this verdict. Besides the establishment of trusts for players, the ruling also prevents the NCAA from disallowing colleges from paying the full cost of attendance as a scholarship. While most student athletes receive tuition for their efforts, many have to pay for incidental costs like transportation and meals on the road. Now schools will determine whether or not they will pay those costs for their players. In fact, this ruling and another recent decision by the NCAA grants autonomy to colleges in the five biggest athletic conferences to determine their own expanded benefits for student athletes. Analysts predict that this could clear the way for bigger scholarships and health plans at the nation’s top sports schools. Meanwhile, colleges with smaller athletic programs could become less appealing to potential recruits.



  1. Will the larger athletic conferences have a huge advantage over small programs?
  1. Can we expect further legal action dealing with treatment of college athletes?


Source: “Judge Rules Against NCAA,” ESPN, August 9, 2014. Photo by Joe Gratz.