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Current college athletes added to O'Bannon suit against NCAA

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Plaintiff attorneys have added a handful of current college athletes to former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit against the NCAA.

There won't be one Curt Flood of college sports. There will be at least six.

Six current football players were added Thursday as plaintiffs in former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon's class-action lawsuit against the NCAA, EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company. Plaintiffs' attorneys added the current players with the hope Judge Claudia Wilken will certify a class of current and former college athletes for the four-year-old lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in 2014.

If Wilken certifies a class that includes current and former players, the focus of the case would shift from the use of former players' likenesses in video games and videos to the lucrative media rights deals between television networks, video game companies and the NCAA, conferences and schools. Potential damages could increase dramatically and the NCAA would be forced to defend its concept of amateurism in court. Plaintiffs would seek a new revenue distribution model that would allow players to receive a specific portion of the revenue generated by broadcast rights.

The current players are:

  • Arizona middle linebacker Jake Fischer, an All-Pac 12 honorable mention player in 2012 who led the Wildcats in tackles with 119.
  • Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson, a senior from College Park, Ga., who started for the first half of 2012 before a fractured ankle ended his season.
  • Vanderbilt middle linebacker Chase Garnham, who made 84 tackles and led the Commodores in sacks in 2012 with seven.
  • Minnesota tight end Moses Alipate, a fifth-year senior who has yet to play in a game.

In a June 20 class certification hearing in Oakland, Wilken said she would allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to better reflect their more recent legal strategy. The amended complaint also allowed for the addition of current players to the class. Plaintiffs' lead attorney Michael Hausfeld expressed concern the NCAA would retaliate against a current athlete by investigating the athlete or by restricting eligibility.

In a letter last week, NCAA attorney Gregory Curtner confirmed the NCAA would take no retaliatory action and accused Hausfeld of "grandstanding" for even suggesting the organization would punish a player for suing. "Your July 8, 2013 request for a stipulation regarding hypothetical 'retaliation' against plaintiffs is completely unnecessary and, given the NCAA's prior representations on this topic, offensive," Curtner wrote.

With written assurance there would be no retaliation against the players, the plaintiffs added the current players to the class. Now, it will up to Wilken to decide whether to certify it. Her decision is expected later this summer.

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