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UB sports law expert says NCAA ruling on paying college athletes could ‘transform’ collegiate sports

Release Date: August 14, 2014

Nellie Drew

Nellie Drew specializes in sports law.

“The line between amateur and professional athletes has been steadily eroding, yet it has been defended vigorously by the NCAA.”
Nellie Drew, JD, adjunct law professor
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N. Y. The recent landmark federal ruling that allows college athletes to be paid for selling their rights to their names and images further blurs the distinction between amateur and professional athletes, according to University at Buffalo Law School adjunct Professor Nellie Drew, who specializes in sports law.

“Friday’s decision in O’Bannon v. NCAA that prohibits the NCAA from banning payments to student-athletes has the potential to transform collegiate sports,” says Drew, an experienced sports law attorney in Western New York who teaches numerous courses at UB in contract negotiation, franchise transactions and the laws governing amateur and professional sports.

“The line between amateur and professional athletes has been steadily eroding, yet it has been defended vigorously by the NCAA.  O’Bannon further blurs that distinction, thereby challenging the structure and function of the NCAA. “

A federal judge ruled that the NCAA can't stop players from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses, striking down NCAA regulations that prohibit players from getting anything other than scholarships and the cost of attendance at schools.

“Historically, the NCAA has been given a pass by the courts on the basis that it provides a unique amateur athletic and scholastic opportunity – and product - which justifies all sorts of restrictions that would otherwise be clear anti-trust violations,” says Drew.

“The few cases in which NCAA regulations have been found in violation of anti-trust laws have rejected that presumption of ivory tower privilege and what many now see as the myth of the student-athlete.  That presumption has also been damaged by the recent NLRB decision allowing Northwestern football players to organize a union.”

Drew says the immediate impact of the O’Bannon case –in which UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others sued the NCAA -- will not be felt until 2016, when the injunction against the NCAA’s ban upon payments to student-athletes for the use of their names, images and likenesses will take effect.

“It remains unclear how Judge Claudia Wilken’s alternatives, including payments to trust funds for athletes to be accessed after eligibility ends, and/or a $5,000 cap per athlete, may be implemented, if at all,” she says. “The NCAA has already indicated that it will appeal the decision and perhaps request an anti-trust exemption from Congress.

“This will be an on-going saga as it plays its way through the courts.  How permanent that situation would be depends upon the next round involving O'Bannon.”

Drew is available for interviews on this ruling and other issues of sports law, including drug testing, selling sports franchises and sports contracts. Contact Charles Anzalone is the UB Office of Communications at 716-645-4600 to request an interview.

Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
Senior Editor, Law, Social Work and Education
Tel: 716-645-4600
anzalon@buffalo.edu