College athletes in court to end NCAA compensation caps

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Attorneys for college football and basketball players returned to court Tuesday to fight NCAA rules that cap athletes’ compensation at what is traditionally covered by a scholarship.

A federal trial in Oakland opened with the testimony of sports economist Dan Rascher, one of several expert witnesses the sides plan to call during the 10-day trial.

The dueling experts are expected to debate the economic effects of allowing schools to freely pay football and basketball players. The plaintiffs want each college athletic conference to determine athletes’ compensation in hopes of creating a free market. The NCAA argues that the richest conferences and schools will quickly gobble up the best athletes, turning off fans and causing economic damage.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken is deciding the case without a jury and the trial started with attorneys submitting their opening statements in writing and calling the first witness. Wilken asked several questions of her own during the first morning of the trial, suggesting she plans to actively participate in questioning since there’s no jury present.

Rascher, a University of San Francisco sports economist, was called by the players’ attorneys to counter the NCAA’s argument.

“I would be shocked if the conferences allowed unfettered compensation,” he testified.

But Wilken interjected and asked how conferences would determine the amount of compensation.

Rascher speculated that they would conduct market research and use other strategies companies across the country deploy.

“Every industry faces this issue,” Rascher said. “It’s not a phenomenon that is unique to college sports.”

Rascher spent almost the entire court day on the stand before the plaintiffs’ attorney called their second witness, Stanford sports economist Roger Knoll.

Knoll spent few than 10 minutes testifying before Wilken called a halt to the trial for the day. Knoll will resume testifying Tuesday.

Wilken is the same judge who ruled on the so-called O’Bannon case, which challenged the NCAA’s right to use athletes’ names, images and likenesses without compensation. The case produced a mixed ruling that eventually went to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Wilken ruled that schools should be permitted, but not required, to compensate athletes for use of their name, image and likeness, with payments capped at $5,000 per year. The appeals court overturned that and said payments “untethered” to education were not required by schools.

Wilken also ruled the NCAA is required to allow schools to factor in their federally determined cost of attendance into the value of an athletic scholarship. That is now common practice in major college sports, though schools were already moving toward NCAA legislation allowing for cost of attendance when Wilken made her ruling.