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Ed O'Bannon arrives at the courthouse Monday in Oakland. / Steve Berkowitz, USA TODAY Sports

When the news broke Friday evening - a federal judge ruled the NCAA had violated antitrust law by prohibiting athletes from being paid - Twitter blew up, just as you'd expect.

The NCAA did not.

Not yet, anyway. Other pending cases might do it. But Judge Claudia Wilken's decision in the Ed O'Bannon case wasn't the mortal blow.

It's symbolically significant - the plaintiffs won, the NCAA lost, and Football Bowl Subdivision and Division I men's basketball players can be paid for their names, images and likenesses. And it could be the first step on the road to pay for play.

But O'Bannon actually was a pretty narrow ruling. Even if the ruling is upheld on appeal and Wilken's prescription takes effect, it won't devastate the system referred to by NCAA types as "the collegiate model."

Instead, we'll see a world in which many schools - but probably not all - would compensate players up to the full cost of attendance while they're playing (Wilken would allow the NCAA to cap compensation there). Many schools - but probably not all - would also place $5,000 per year per athlete in trust, payable after they're finished playing (Wilken set the cap there, too).

It's worth noting full cost-of-attendance scholarships already are on the way with the approval of autonomy for the Power Five conferences. And that industry insiders have suggested, at least in whispers, that they'd be OK with the idea of placing limited amounts in trust for players to access after they finished school.

Even as she ruled against the NCAA - and against its defenses of amateurism and the integration of academics and athletics - some of her stipulations were friendly to the model.

In setting the cap for deferred compensation at $5,000 a year per player, Wilken referred to testimony in the trial, when NCAA witnesses suggested negative effects of compensating players (especially if compensation was deferred) would be mitigated or minimized if it was capped at a few thousand dollars.

Wilken didn't mandate that schools must pay players, either in full cost-of-attendance or in trust. The NCAA can't prevent schools from doing it - but they don't have to.

She also ruled the NCAA could prohibit schools from offering recruits or players unequal shares of the revenue. In other words, every football and men's basketball player at a school would get the same amount.

Finally, Wilken ruled the injunction does not "preclude the NCAA from continuing to enforce all of its other existing rules ?" including rules that prevent athletes from endorsement deals, set academic eligibility requirements, or limit the number of football and basketball scholarships.

Quick, very rough math: Figuring the ruling would affect approximately 120 players per school, the annual outlay at the maximum figure of $5,000 would be around $600,000. Paying full cost-of-attendance (and the pre-existing proposals would cover every athlete, not just football and men's basketball players) would cost around $1 million. Though a significant expense, it's still but a fraction of what schools have reaped from TV contracts in which, according to Wilken, players should be compensated for their names, images and likenesses.

Wilken ruled the NCAA could prohibit athletes from monetizing the deferred compensation (withdrawing it or borrowing off of it) while they were in school. And in that ruling, she was attempting "to ensure that the NCAA may achieve its goal of integrating academics and athletics."

The real significance in Wilken's ruling might be in where it could lead. Wilken is scheduled to hear another batch of antitrust cases against the NCAA. Where O'Bannon dealt with rights to names, images and likenesses, these deal with more direct compensation, seeking to prevent the NCAA from setting limits on the value of a scholarship. In each case, the plaintiffs will draw from Wilken's ruling in O'Bannon to try to help make their arguments.

It's possible Wilken ruled narrowly in this case while recognizing the pending cases strike more directly at the heart of the collegiate model. It's not that Wilken will necessarily rule against the NCAA in those cases - though she certainly might - but that she'll have the opportunity to more fully explore the issues in those cases.

The O'Bannon ruling's significance might not be fully known for several years - and that has nothing to do with the inevitable appeals, and everything to do with those other cases. There's no way to predict what happens from here.

But if - and yeah, it's a big if - the NCAA ultimately prevails on the other matters, it didn't lose too much in this one.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: NCAA lost O'Bannon ruling, but all (collegiate model) is not lost

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