Athletes pursue class action lawsuit against NCAA

NCAA President Mark Emmert speaking at a press

NCAA President Mark Emmert speaking at a press conference. (October 24, 2012)

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Lawyers for former student athletes are seeking Thursday to turn their lawsuit against the NCAA over compensation into a class action representing thousands of collegiate competitors.

A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments in Oakland on Thursday afternoon. If the lawsuit is turned into class action and the athletes prevail, the NCAA could face billions of dollars in liability.

The lawsuit was initially filed by University of California, Los Angeles basketball player Ed O'Bannon and several other former college athletes in 2009 who feel the NCAA is unfairly profiting from their likenesses and images in marketing deals with video games and others. Several similar lawsuits have also been filed and all have been consolidated into one case in front of U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland.

The judge has previously refused NCAA demands to toss out the lawsuit.

The NCAA argues that many of the athletes receive scholarships in exchange for playing sports and to pay student athletes would ruin amateur athletics.

The judge isn't expected to rule Thursday.

The lawsuit seeks a share of the money the NCAA earns from licensing former players' images in commercials, DVDs, video games and elsewhere.

The debate over compensating college players is almost as old as the NCAA, founded in 1906. Amateurs have been expected to compete for free and the love of sport -- or at least the cost of a scholarship and the pursuit of an education.

But the NCAA's revenues have skyrocketed in recent years -- it recently signed a $10.8 billion, 14-year television deal for basketball -- and so have the demands of athletes to share in the money.

For its part, the NCAA is steadfast in its position that student-athletes are prohibited from receiving payment for participating in sports. It also says it has done nothing wrong in marketing itself for the benefit of its member schools and will continue to vigorously contest the lawsuits.

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