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Unsealed emails seem to support Ed O’Bannon’s case vs. NCAA


The class-action lawsuit that Ed O’Bannon and company have brought against the NCAA, EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) took an interesting turn back in August when a judge in California ruled that the NCAA would be forced to open their books and show “revenue that its members receive from broadcast television, radio and Internet rights as well as reports tied to income from sponsorships, licensing, sales of advertising, and more.”

In other words, for the first time ever, the NCAA would have to provide documentation on precisely how much they make off of licensing and broadcast deals and how that money gets broken up between member institutions.

While we are still waiting for that information to see the light of day, ESPN and the Birmingham News managed to uncover a series of emails that shines an even more interesting light on the case.

Harvey Perlman is the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska. Back in 2009, after O’Bannon’s lawsuit was filed, he wrote to then-Commissioner of the Big 12 Dan Beebe an email expressing his concerns about the NCAA’s ability to sell licensing rights of student-athletes without compensating them:

“This whole area of name and likeness and the NCAA is a disaster leading to catastrophe as far as I can tell,” wrote Perlman, a former member of the NCAA Board of Directors and law professor specializing in intellectual property. “I’m still trying to figure out by what authority the NCAA licenses these rights to the game makers and others. I looked at what our student athletes sign by way of waiver and it doesn’t come close.”

The key there is that Perlman is not only the Chancellor of a Big 12 school with a strong football program, but he is also a former member of the NCAA Board of Directors and law professor specializing in intellectual property. It’s one man’s opinion, but there are probably few men on this planet that would have a more valid opinion on the matter.

It gets better.

The creators of NCAA basketball and football video games have long said that the players in those games are not based on the players or their likenesses. But another email that was uncovered from an executive at the CLC seems to prove otherwise:

“Just a heads up, in case schools ask you this - all of EA’s latest 2008 March Madness basketball submissions have current players names on the jerseys in the game,” wrote Wendy Harmon, a CLC marketing coordinator. “I have called Gina Ferranti at EA about this (she submits all of these basketball ones) and she assured me that they will not be using those in the final version. She said they have to put the players names in so it will calculate the correct stats but then they take them off. Just don’t want the schools to freak out - she said a few have already commented on it in their approval.”

There are many more details in both of the reports linked above, and I’d encourage you to give them a click and a read. But as of now, it is important to note that these emails seems to strengthen the case for NCAA athletes.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in early 2014.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.