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O'Bannon vs. NCAA wraps up with college sports under the gun

The Ed O'Bannon vs. NCAA trial wrapped up on Friday afternoon and the evidence, facts and testimony presented over three weeks at a federal courthouse in Oakland, Calif., has the potential to reshape all of college athletics. With millions of dollars on the line for schools and players, as well as a fundamental challenge to the NCAA's foundation of amateurism, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken will take her time as she carefully considers every aspect of the lawsuit. 

What happened, what does it mean and where do we go from here? Here are some key takeaways from some of the witnesses and what they contributed to the case, which should be decided by the judge in August.

Ed O'Bannon takes the stand

What happened: The case's namesake and lead plaintiff, O'Bannon was the first witness to take the stand. Much of his time in court was about his recruitment to and time at UCLA and how he was there to play basketball and not to strictly get an education. On cross-examination, NCAA attorneys attacked him for inconsistent statements about paying players.

What it means: Although his name is closely associated with the trial, O'Bannon's testimony is unlikely to have a huge effect on the outcome. He was on the stand mainly to show that the NCAA restricts compensation to athletes who don't see the integration of academics and athletics that the NCAA has claimed.

They said it: "I had money in my pocket." - O'Bannon on the difference between college and the NBA.

Stanford economics professor Dr. Roger Noll

What happened: A star witness for the plaintiffs, Noll spent nearly 11 hours on the stand across three days. He told the court that the NCAA engages in anti-competitive, cartel-like behavior and the organization has colluded to ensure players don't get any value for their names, images and likenesses. He also attacked the NCAA's notion of competitive balance, noting how few schools have won a national title or field top 25 teams. The NCAA had a testy cross-examination of the professor, attacking several of his points. 

What it means: Noll's testimony went to the heart of the case and may be the key evidence that Judge Wilken uses in her decision. The professor attacked the NCAA quite a bit on how they restrict the market for athletes. It did get a little muddled at times but he likely did enough to show that the reason schools are making millions in TV revenue is the direct result of the athletes playing in games that are broadcasted. 

They said it: An NCAA lawyer said this while on cross with Noll about athletes: "They all get an education. Let me rephrase: They all get an opportunity to get an education." Oops.

Former Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro

What happened: Best known for making a memorable catch for the Crimson Tide as well as suffering a horrific leg injury, Prothro discussed his playing career and what happened afterward. He stated he had to take out $10,000 worth of student loans while at Alabama -- which he is still paying off -- despite having a full scholarship. He also brought up that his famous catch earned the school plenty of money, but he was told he had to pay $10 for a photo of it.

What it means: Like O'Bannon, Prothro is one of the plaintiffs who took the stand to show the divide between academics and athletics in school as well as the fact that players are restricted from making money off their likeness. His assertions about Alabama making money off his achievements while he had to take out loans resonated quite a bit.

They said it: NCAA lawyer asked Prothro if there other people who contributed to "The Catch?" He deadpanned: "I mean, who else did it?"

Ed Desser talks television

What happened: The plaintiffs called sports TV expert Ed Desser to the stand to dispute the NCAA's argument that broadcasters buy rights to show stadiums and not players. Desser walked through several contracts and showed that some had specific clauses allowing networks to use names and images of the players. 

What it means: The notion that the NCAA was advancing about broadcasters paying for stadium access for games is a bit laughable but it was clearly concocted for a legal reason. Desser did a good job of showing that what broadcasters are paying for are the players and that contracts even specifically allowed them to use names and likenesses in many different areas. 

They said it: "I care about the flow of the money. Who gives it, who gets it, and what are stipulations." -- Judge Wilken.

Former executive Neal Pilson steps up for the NCAA

What happened: The former CBS executive brought up that the public would watch fewer games if players were paid and that nobody in the industry directly discussed names, images or likeness rights being transferred from the NCAA. Pilson also noted that TV revenue is not shared with athletes in other leagues, from Little League to the Olympics.

What it means: Pilson was brought to the stand to illustrate how paying players would hurt business (i.e. fewer people watching). He likely had an impact when he said any contract language concerning athletes' names/images/likenesses were related to promotion of events, not the events themselves. 

They said it: Pilson noted that Michael Jordan didn't see a cent of the TV revenue from the Olympics when he was on the Dream Team.

Sports economist Dan Rascher says college is a big business

What happened: Rascher seemed to be the numbers guy as he brought up a ton of dollar figures and statistics to show that college athletics is a booming enterprise. He cut to the heart of an NCAA argument by saying winning and losing is the biggest driver of fan interest and not players getting paid or because of the school name on the front of the jersey.

What it means: Rascher presented a number of interesting numbers that showed how big NCAA athletics has becomes and that sports trumps just about everything at academic institutions. In short, there's quite a demand for college sports and plenty of money involved.

They said it: Rascher said of the 1,044 football recruits who had scholarship offers from the Sun Belt and Pac-10/12 from 2007-2011, 1,024 of them picked the bigger league.

Former Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham

What happened: Garnham testified to his career at Vandy what he did during his time there. In the funniest exchange of the week, an NCAA attorney went through his Twitter timeline to show he watched a marathon of The Walking Dead and Entourage while in school.

What it means: Not a ton of impactful testimony to the underlying issues of the case but he did show that athletes' tweets can play a part in a major court case.

They said it: "Vandy brought me value. I brought Vandy value. Only difference is they were able to capitalize on that value." - Garnham 

Drexel professor Ellen Staurowsky talks amateurism

What happened: Staurowsky testified about amateurism -- or lack thereof -- at the upper levels of the NCAA by saying FBS football and men's basketball is a business not unlike the NFL or NBA. She noted that corporate sponsors are heavily involved in the NCAA like other league and that budgets are skyrocketing across the board. She also brought up the workload some face, saying that football players spend over 40 hours a week in season on the sport.

What it means: Like Noll and others, Staurowsky's testimony was nuanced but spoke to how major college football and men's basketball players are closer to their professional counterparts than NCAA models holds them up to be.

They said it: Staurowsky said NCAA members make $4.6 billion off merchandise sales which is more than the NFL.

Texas AD Chris Plonsky stumbles

What happened: Texas women's athletic director Chris Plonsky took the stand for the defense and discussed the academic and athletic mission of the Longhorns. She seemed a bit naive about the world of college athletics based on a few of her statements. Most importantly, her presence at the trial meant the plaintiffs could bring up a whole host of emails, documents and other evidence that NCAA administrators had discussed paying players for their names, images and likenesses several years ago.

What it means: The NCAA is arguing there isn't a market for players' publicity rights but Plonsky's appearance opened the door to discuss the fact that NCAA leaders had talked about them in detail and even considered paying players.

They said it: O'Bannon attorney to reporters after Plonsky testified: "She was our witness."

EA Sports' Joel Linzner discusses video games

What happened: Although EA settled their part in the case, Linzner discussed how the company would have paid more money if players names were used instead of just their likeness and that was one of the top requests by consumers. He noted the company never tried to even ask for that since it was against NCAA rules.

What it means: Linzner hurt the defendants' claim that there was no market for the players when he said the No. 1 request was for names in their video games.

They said it: The VP noted his company would produce another NCAA Football video game if there was a good way to get players/schools' rights after all the litigation was settled.

Spotlight shines on Mark Emmert

What happened: In the most anticipated day of testimony, Mark Emmert was under the spotlight on day nine.  He handled things better than expected but still had some difficulties in answering what the NCAA's definition of amateurism is. He said if players are paid he could see most schools going to a Division III model and not offer scholarships to athletes.

What it means: Maybe it was a metaphor for his testimony but Emmert's chair was broken and he struggled with it all day, nearly falling off at one point according to several witnesses. He didn't have any damning statements but his lack of clarity on defining amateurism was a big swing and a miss for the defendants. 

They said it: "These individuals are not professionals," said Emmert. "People come to watch sports because it's college sports with college athletes." He also said he didn't know Oregon's Marcus Mariota's jersey number because he's a Washington Husky.

The out-spoken Jim Delany

What happened: Delany reminisced about being a student-athlete and went into a lot of detail about the current structure of the NCAA and the Big Ten. He complained about athletics taking up too much time for some students and how the playing field wasn't really level.

What it means: There wasn't a ton Delany said that helped advance the NCAA's big talking points and in some ways he definitely helped O'Bannon lawyers by bringing up the number of hours an athlete spends on sports. 

They said it: A North Carolina grad, Delany used Duke's losses to Lehigh and Mercer in the NCAA tournament as an example of competitive equity. 

Boosters and boogeymen with Greg Sankey

What happened: SEC associate commissioner Greg Sankey had some of the best testimony that supported the NCAA's cause on academics and athletics but his time on the stand quickly devolved into a discussion about booster payments to athletes. The NCAA naturally painted this as an evil thing while the judge questioned if it was even relevant to the case.

What it means: Sankey made some great points about possible Title IX issues with paying athletes and went into details of the SEC's contracts and sponsors. Still, things got a little sidetracked by the booster discussion. 

They said it: An NCAA attorney said Auburn won the national title in football this year but Sankey politely corrected her.

Lauren Stiroh discusses antitrust

What happened: A lot of Stiroh's testimony was dedicated to the nuances of antitrust litigation and other fun topics. Among the notable things that she said was that players trying to sell their names/images/likeness is an example of a monopsony, not an NCAA monopoly as some have portrayed. She also noted that the athletes' names/images/likenesses only have value when tied to a college.

What it means: It's hard to believe Stiroh's testimony that there isn't a market for players' names/images/likenesses but the bigger impact her answers will have are on Judge Wilken's look into whether the NCAA is overly restrictive in their regulations or not. 

They said it: Stiroh said players are better off with things like facilities than they would be with things like cash.

All of the Cartels with Daniel Rubinfield

What happened: An economic expert for the NCAA, much of Rubinfield's testimony revolved around the term cartel. Despite being a witness for the defendants, he actually called the NCAA a cartel in a textbook and didn't put a whole lot of distance between that when tried to explain things away by calling the NCAA "not a classic cartel." Ok then.

What it means: Wilken became heavily involved in questioning Rubinfield and he seemed to stumble on issues like revenue being redistributed and why player compensation is such a negative. His apperance certainly didn't help on the NCAA PR front either.

They said it: NCAA attorney Greg Curtner: The NCAA "is a cartel that does good things as a opposed to a cartel that does bad things." 

The bottom line

So what did the three weeks of endless testimony and millions of dollars in billable hours mean for the future of college athletics? It will be some time before we find out for sure. This case is about the NCAA going forward and if O'Bannon successfully convinced Judge Wilken that the association is a cartel that financially harms athletes by limiting how their names/images/likenesses are licensed, then she'll issue an injunction that would compel the NCAA into changing its rules.

If that happens, football and men's basketball players would be able to negotiate compensation for use of their names/images/likenesses while retaining eligibility. There would be a number of remaining issues to sort out -- such as Title IX and college budgets -- but it would be a landmark victory for players across the country. 

Either way, expect a lengthy appeals process that could see the case travel all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. What happened this month at an Oakland courthouse was only the beginning, but it has the potential to provide significant change to college football and the NCAA. 

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