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O'Bannon v. NCAA: What The Hell Is Antitrust Anyway?

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With the O’Bannon v. NCAA trial set to start on June 9, sports commentators and legal analysts will throw around the term “antitrust” quite often. It’s a term that is unclear to most. So let’s break down its meaning so you can decipher how it relates to the O’Bannon case.

Antitrust is the foundation for the O’Bannon v. NCAA lawsuit. The plaintiff (the one who filed the lawsuit) makes an antitrust claim against the defendant (NCAA). So in this case, O’Bannon is the one holding the antitrust sword.

Antitrust doesn’t have to do with trusting someone, secrets or pinkie-promises. In fact, the term should be anti-competition instead of antitrust because that’s what the basic principle is behind the term: competition.

Because I can see you’re eyebrows are still furrowed, let me demystify antitrust by way of example.

Let’s say you own a farm in Ohio and produce milk. And in order to increase business, you hire Billy the Kid to steal two of your competitors’ cows. In the grand scheme of things, those two competitors losing their cows will not affect the milk industry in Ohio because of the large number of milk producers in the state. Therefore, antitrust wouldn’t be an issue—the price of milk wouldn’t be affected.

Now let’s pretend you and those two other milk producers were the only farmers in Ohio producing milk. And after paying Billy the Kid for his brilliant bandit abilities, you hike the price of milk to $10.00 per gallon.

Ah, I see a few eyebrows unfurrowing.

By stealing the cows, you committed crimes and would have to pay criminally (jail) and/or civilly (fines).  And in the pretend world where Ohio only has three milk-producing farmers, when you stole the cows (and raised the price for milk) antitrust protections were triggered. You wiped out the competition, which is forbidden by antitrust law.

How does this all relate to the O’Bannon v. NCAA lawsuit?

O’Bannon, et. al have alleged that the NCAA and the individual schools who are a part of the NCAA (and the Collegiate Licensing Company) fixed the price of former student athletes’ images at $0.00, meaning the students don’t get paid a cent when their images are used.

O’Bannon and the other student-athletes are also claiming that the NCAA boycotts former student athletes in the collegiate licensing market.

According the O’Bannon, the NCAA is the only one who can use athletes’ images (monopoly) and has no competition with respect to how much athletes should be paid to use their images (antitrust). The real rub is the fact that the NCAA has set the price (think, $10.00 gallons of milk) to $0.00 for those athletes’ images.

So O’Bannon and company are saying either they should be paid when the NCAA uses their images and/or student-athletes should be permitted to market themselves to make money off of their own images. The failure to permit student-athletes to do so (and only allow the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Company to do so) triggers antitrust protection.

Now return those cows before you end up sharing a cell with Aaron Hernandez. 

Cedric Hopkins

Cedric Hopkins Bio

 I attended the University of New Mexico and played basketball for the Lobos. After back-packing in Europe for a spell, I decided to attend law school. After graduation, I worked for a small firm in San Diego, CA then moved to Tucson where I opened my law practice, The Hopkins Law Office, P.C. I specialize in writing appeals in criminal and civil matters at the state and federal level.

For years, I have researched and written about legal issues but maintained a love for sports. With FieldandCourt.com, I am combining my two passions and researching and writing about sports. When I'm not in court arguing my case before a judge, I'll be doing the same with my articles on FieldandCourt.com.

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Cedric Hopkins

I attended the University of New Mexico and played basketball for the Lobos. After back-packing in Europe for a spell, I decided to attend law school. After graduation, I worked for a small firm in San Diego, CA then moved to Tucson where I opened my law practice, The Hopkins Law Office, P.C. I specialize in writing appeals in criminal and civil matters at the state and federal level.

For years, I have researched and written about legal issues but maintained a love for sports. With FieldandCourt.com, I am combining my two passions by researching and writing about sports. When I'm not in court arguing my case before a judge, I'll be doing the same with my articles on FieldandCourt.com.