- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

THE WAR AGAINST THE MODERN-DAY RESERVE CLAUSE

In every revolution, there comes a moment when there is no going back, when the inexorable march to change overcomes the power of the status quo.

Forty years ago, such a moment came when outfielder Curt Flood decided he was willing to take baseball to court over the legality of his contract.

Now, it appears, another revolution-sparking moment has arrived, in a case not altogether different from Flood’s. The potential protagonist is former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, the figurehead in a class action lawsuit against the NCAA. The suit (and a similar one filed by ex-Nebraska QB Sam Keller) claims the NCAA is improperly using former student-athletes’ likenesses to turn a profit. Exhibit A: In one video game, the player on the ‘95 Bruins team has O’Bannon’s height, weight, skills and number — just not his name. Same goes for scores of other players.

The NCAA has defended profiting from players by citing the “scholarship papers,” forms every student-athlete must sign. Part IV of the form reads: “You authorize the NCAA… to use your name or picture to generally promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs.”

According to O’Bannon’s lawsuit, the NCAA claims that once student-athletes sign that form, they agree to let the NCAA use their likeness forever — as in, eternity.

Reserve clause, anyone?

That clause was the wording in baseball contracts that, for almost a century, bound players to a team for the rest of their lives. Then along came Flood, who sued the league over the clause after being traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies. While the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against him, his crusade opened the door for other players who finally brought down the system.

Don’t get O’Bannon wrong: He isn’t arguing that current players should be paid. He just wants the NCAA to stop having a monopoly on profits derived from players after they have left school. O’Bannon, of course, isn’t alone. The man who persuaded him to serve as lead plaintiff is Sonny Vaccaro, the don of amateur basketball. And they are backed by high-powered law firms that don’t mess around with small-time cases.

Like Flood, O’Bannon has the courage to fight a flawed system while his peers sit on the sidelines and say, “That’s just the way it is.” Like Flood, O’Bannon might end up on the losing end in court. In the most important of ways, though, the fight already has been won. The first volleys of the revolution have been fired.

Saturday’s best bet on television

Lance Armstrong trails in the Tour de France by nearly 5 1/2 minutes, with one last chance to make a move on Mont Ventoux. 7 a.m., Versus

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