By Mark Curriden
Ten former student-athletes who played college basketball and football sued the major television networks and eight large college sports conferences in a Nashville federal court seeking compensation for use of their images.
Billions of dollars, according to legal experts, are at stake in the litigation. Two of the defendants – the Big 12 and Conference USA, which are both based in Irving – turned to Leane Capps, a commercial litigation partner at the Polsinelli law firm’s Dallas office.
Last week, Capps scored a huge victory for her clients when U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp dismissed the players’ lawsuit, which argued that the leagues and TV networks unfairly benefited financially by creating rules that prohibited student athletes from accepting compensation for their participation in college sports.
Lawyers for the students based their arguments on publicity law, trademark statute and antitrust law. Judge Sharp last Thursday rejected those claims, stating that the student-athletes failed to provide sufficient evidence to support their claims for payment.
“In this case, however,” he wrote, “the court is not called upon to address the larger picture of whether, as a matter of recognition, equity, or fundamental fairness, student athletes should receive ‘pay for play.’”
The judge noted that the NCAA is not a defendant in the Tennessee case.
Capps, who received her bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian and her law degree from Baylor University School of Law, also represents the two leagues in a separate litigation in federal court in Oakland, California, where a judge ruled last August that the NCAA and 11 sports conferences violated antitrust laws by unreasonably restraining athletes from benefiting from their images and likenesses on certain television broadcasts and in video games.
That lawsuit was filed by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 other former student-athletes. Both the Tennessee and California cases are expected to be appealed to their respective federal courts of appeals.
Polsinelli litigation associate Caitlin Morgan is working on the litigation with Capps.