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March 10, 2010 6:52 PM

Landmark Case Against NCAA Turning Into College Basketball History Course

Posted by Zach Lowe

The plaintiffs attorneys at Hausfeld and Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro have upped the ante in their landmark class action antitrust suit against the NCAA by adding several new plaintiffs to the action today. The list includes members of four of the most famous college basketball teams ever.

Seriously: If you wanted to read a brief history of college basketball, you could do worse than reading the amended complaint, which charges the NCAA with violating antitrust laws by allowing broadcasters and video game companies to use player likenesses without compensating the players. It's as if the plaintiffs legal advisers scoured the rosters of nearly every landmark team in college hoops history and called the players on those teams. There's Alex Gilbert, a member of Larry Bird's 1979 Indiana State University Sycamores squad that lost the national title game to Magic Johnson's Michigan State University team--a game widely credited with catapulting NCAA hoops to a new level of popularity. "The players are being exploited," Gilbert said in a statement released by Hausfeld. "It is time to stand up to make a change. The athlete deserves a voice."

Also among the new plaintiffs: three players (three!) who played in the 1966 national title game between the University of Kentucky and what was then known as Texas Western. For the nonhoops fans among our readers, Texas Western played the first all-black starting line-up in college basketball history and defeated Kentucky (a historically white team) to win the championship. (The game and the teams are the subject of the 2006 movie "Glory Road".) Two of the Texas Western starters--Harry Flournoy and David Lattin--have joined the case along with ex-Kentucky player Bob Tallent, court records show.

"This case at its core is about fairness," Lattin said in the same statement.

Younger readers may remember another new plaintiff, Eric Riley, as a key member of the University of Michigan's famous "Fab Five" team of the mid-1990s. Riley was a good player in his own right and went on to play five seasons in the NBA, including a brief stint with our beloved Celtics. The Fab Five are featured ad nauseum in clips advertising the NCAA championship tournament. "For years I saw our team's games being shown, and I always thought until now that that's just the way it is," Riley said, "and that there was nothing I could do about it."

Lawyers for the NCAA (a team from Detroit's Miller Canfield) have declined to comment when we've contacted them. As we have previously reported, the suit is the result of an initial push from two players: former University of Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller and ex-UCLA hoops star Ed O'Bannon. The courts eventually joined their separate lawsuits, and the combined case survived summary judgment motions from the NCAA and Electronic Arts last month. (Keker & Van Nest is advising Electronic Arts.) The defendants have claimed they did not violate antitrust laws, and that college athletes do not have the same right of publicity as professional athletes. The NCAA's bylaws prohibit athletes from profiting off of their names and images, and EA does not include their names in video games. (Though it does design each unnamed player so that he has the same uniform number and physical characteristics as the real player the game is attempting to emulate, according to the players' suit. Game players also can load their own rosters, complete with the proper names, the suit says.)

Michael Hausfeld, the chair of Hausfeld, said today that the case "is just the beginning" of a process that will result in payments to "thousands" of athletes. The case is being heard in federal court in Oakland.

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