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Oscar Roberson and NCAA: The Big O Says No


In July, 2009 former UCLA basketball star and NBA player Ed O’Bannon filed suit against the NCAA for anti-trust violations stemming from its use of his likeness in products such as cards and video games without his permission and without paying him royalty fees for the use of his image.

Since the suit was filed in federal court more than two dozen former college football and basketball players have joined the suit as named plaintiffs and the case has been certified as a class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit recently gained another, famous named plaintiff when Oscar Robertson announced that he was joining the plaintiff class.  Robertson was an All-American at the University of Cincinnati, where he played from 1956 to 1960.  He led the Bearcats to the NCAA Final Four in both 1959 and 1960.  He is a member of the college and professional basketball Halls of Fame.

In the 1961-62 season he accomplished the almost unimaginable feat of averaging a triple-double per game—double figures in points, rebounds and assists.  He in fact averaged 32 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists per game the 1961-62 season.

The suit alleges that 50 years after his last college game the NCAA’s licensing partner, Collegiate Licensing, is still selling trading cards bearing Robertson’s image with their logo on the cards.  The NCAA is paid a licensing fee for each card sold yet Robertson receives nothing.

“I have nothing to do with it”, Robertson recently told USA Today.  “I’ve seen those cards over the years.  I’ve tried to find out where they’re coming from”.

The NCAA is vigorously defending the lawsuit, perhaps in part because of the fear that if this lawsuit is won by the plaintiffs then current players will also want to control the licensing rights to their images.

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Greg Tyler, MPA, JD, MLIS
Mr. Tyler is the Director of the Library/Archivist at the United States Sports Academy. He is also a former practicing attorney


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