Former College Athletes Sanctioned in Lost-Profits Case

A California magistrate judge has slapped sanctions on former collegiate athletes attempting to obtain TV sports contracts and other documents in an ongoing lawsuit that alleges the NCAA, its members and conferences and licensing partners are unfairly profiting from athletes' images.

As we reported earlier this month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins turned down a motion to compel Fox, the Big Ten conference and others to produce "highly sensitive" documents that would purportedly show a conspiracy requiring collegiate sports stars to relinquish their rights as various colleges and corporations earn billions of dollars off their backs.

The judge determined the requests were "overly broad."

The tentative decision has now become official, and Judge Cousins has added to the record by expressing some displeasure at the way the plaintiffs have gone about their business.

According to the latest decision, during the litigation both Fox and the Big Ten Network agreed to produce excerpts from TV broadcast and licensing agreements for football and basketball that referred to athletes' publicity rights, names, images and likenesses. The networks also agreed to hand over excerpts from non-privileged documents on negotiations for these deals and a summary of distribution rights.

But the plaintiffs rejected the offer as insufficient, wishing to obtain broader information relating to "the bundle of rights" that were at issue in the case.

The subpoena requests called for confidential commercial information, and the judge thinks the plaintiffs went too far and should have accepted the plaintiffs' "reasonable" offer. The judge is now giving Fox and the Big Ten Network until March 20 to come up with those documents as first offered.

Judge Cousins decides, however, to send the plaintiffs a message.

"Plaintiffs rejected reasonable attempts to compromise...and ended the negotiations with respect to the scope of the document requests by stating that further efforts to meet and confer 'would be fruitless,'" he writes. "It is evident that further negotiations would not have been 'fruitless' as antitrust plaintiffs contend."

The plaintiffs have been ordered to pay the costs of bringing the motion.

Meanwhile, the case goes on, with some limited documents being handed over and, as we previously reported, NCAA President Mark Emmert sitting for a three-hour deposition in the midst of March Madness to talk about the NCAA’s policies on amateur athletes and “concerns that commercialism is overwhelming amateurism.”


Twitter: @eriqgardner