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O'Bannon v. NCAA Suit Could Be a Game Changer in College Athletics

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The landscape and future of big-time collegiate athletics continues to be played out in an Oakland courtroom where former UCLA Bruin basketball star Ed O'Bannon took the stand Monday on the first day of the class-action antitrust lawsuit he brought on behalf of former players against the NCAA in 2009.

The suit charges the NCAA has been profiting from the names and images of its players in its television broadcasts as well as other commercial purposes while unlawfully restricting the players' ability to do the same. The outcome will have a major impact on the business of pro and college sports.

While past players stand to be compensated if the NCAA loses this case, the decision will have an impact on future players in Division 1 basketball and Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs and their ability to claim a piece of the bountiful pie that comes from fat television deals the NCAA makes.

March Madness, one of the most popular events on the sports calendar, is aired by CBS (CBS - Get Report) and Time Warner's (TWX) Turner Networks under a decidedly non-amateur $10.8 billion agreement that stretches to 2024.

It was announced at the beginning of the trial that the NCAA had settled a related case brought by former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller involving the likeness of players in video games. The NCAA agreed to pay $20 million ($4,000 per player approx.) to certain players whose photos were used for avatars in video games produced by Electronic Arts (EA) and Collegiate Licensing Company, which is owned as a subdivision by IMG Worldwide, a private company.

While the Keller settlement is in no way connected to the O'Bannon case, the case narrows the scope strictly to the television issue, according to NCAA attorney Glenn Pomerantz. Pomerantz looked to draw U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken's attention just after the settlement was announced.

"This will allow us now to focus on the issues of live broadcasts and rebroadcasts," he said in the courtroom.

Judge Wilken listened as O'Bannon took the stand and said he'd spend as many as 40 to 45 hours a week during his time at UCLA from 1991-1995 focused on basketball and less than a quarter of that time on his studies.

"I was an athlete masquerading as a student," O'Bannon said. "I was there strictly to play basketball. I did basically the minimum to make sure I kept my eligibility academically so I could continue to play."

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