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Student athletes fight for the right to be paid

Submitted Photo:  Ed O’Bannon recently testified against the NCAA on behalf of student athletes being paid for their exhibition.

Submitted Photo:
Ed O’Bannon recently testified against the NCAA on behalf of student athletes being paid for their exhibition.

Lee Romney

Los Angeles Times

As the antitrust trial against the NCAA wore into its fourth day Thursday, dueling experts disagreed on whether student-athletes have a legal right to be paid for their names, images and likenesses being used in live telecasts of college games.

A key issue is whether such so-called NIL rights even exist for purposes of live broadcasts.

The NCAA’s lead expert, consultant and former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, said that while “name, image and likeness” is a term that at times is included in contractual language, in his experience it was never valued separately, and in negotiating billions of dollars in broadcast deals, he never heard specific discussion of whether rights of individual athletes — amateur or professional — had been obtained.

The contracts, he testified, tend to specifically mention name, image and likeness only in reference to their use in event promotions or commercial prohibitions. Plaintiffs’ witness Edwin Desser, a consultant who was formerly the NBA head of broadcasting, took an opposing position, saying that the name, image and likeness rights of players are “at the heart” of every telecasting contract and are always conveyed — either explicitly or implicitly.

Pilson also testified that he believes college sports would lose public support if athletes were paid.

During cross-examination, Pilson was shown a 2010 email from former longtime NCAA policy adviser Wally Renfro to incoming President Mark Emmert that wrestled with the rising perception of “commercial exploitation” by the 108-year-old association.

“It’s a fairness issue and along with the notion that athletes are students is the great hypocrisy of intercollegiate athletics,” Renfro wrote.

Asked whether that assessment changed his view of student-athletes playing for the love of the sport and as a result winning admiration from the viewing public, Pilson said no.

“Maybe I’m naive, but I still believe — notwithstanding Mr. Renfro — that the public has a different view of student athletics,” Pilson said, “and that if we go down the road of paying student-athletes all will be lost.”

The antitrust trial is being heard without a jury.

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