Ed O’Bannon Takes Even Stronger Stance On NCAA Player Compensation

Ed O'Bannon Jr.

Ed O’Bannon has long been a vocal proponent for paying NCAA men’s basketball and football players for the revenues made off their images and likenesses. But now the former UCLA basketball star has added something else to his wish list for current players: compensation for just being on these teams.

O’Bannon, who was named the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player during the Bruins’ 1995 championship season, told The Huffington Post last week that his position on paying players has evolved.

In July 2009, O’Bannon filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of former players, arguing that players should be compensated in some form whenever their images and likenesses are used — for example, in advertisements or video games. But until now, he hasn’t taken a strong position on whether players should be paid as if they’re employees of the NCAA or its member institutions.

“Initially, I was not necessarily against players getting paid, but I was in it for controlling your likeness,” he said. “[Now] I believe that [paying NCAA athletes as employees] is a strong possibility — within reason.”

O’Bannon emphasized that he’s not asking for huge paydays for student-athletes, but rather said he think the players should take home enough to allow them simple pleasures that many middle- and upper-class college students are already afforded.

“I’ve said a million times that players aren’t asking for millions of dollars a year,” he said. “Just a couple of dollars to take their girlfriends to dinner and a movie.”

Most Americans disagree with paying players, according to a February HuffPost/YouGov poll. Of those surveyed, only 30 percent said they support the idea of universities paying student-athletes in some form. Forty-four percent said they were against it.

In the last year, the NCAA has made small changes to facets of its athletic scholarship program — for instance, student-athletes are now allowed to have unlimited meals on campus and are given a bit of money to cover incidental costs during the academic year. A 2011 study by the National College Players Association and the Drexel University Department of Sports Management found that the majority of “full” athletic scholarships left student-athletes below the federal poverty line.

O’Bannon’s fight for players to be granted some money whenever their images are used is ongoing. In August, a judge ruled in favor of O’Bannon’s legal team when it said the NCAA should not be allowed to stop student-athletes from profiting off their images and likenesses. But the NCAA is currently appealing the ruling, claiming in part that compensating student-athletes would “deprive athletes of a genuine choice” between “amateur college sports and their professional counterparts.”

For now, O’Bannon said that he’s happy “as long as conversation is being had, as long as the powers that be recognize that changes need to be made — that they need to treat these athletes with some dignity and compensate them for their likeness.”

“Whether the rules are changed now or will change in the next year or so, either way is fine with me,” he said. “We are further now than we were last year at this time.”

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