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Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon Jr., shown in his Henderson, Nevada office in September 2010, was the first named plaintiff in the revenue-sharing suit on behalf of NCAA athletes. ‘There are millions and millions of dollars being made off the sweat and grind of the student athlete,’ O’Bannon said when the suit was filed. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

NCAA opposes fee request in revenue-sharing suit

The lawyers who pursued the successful antitrust lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association for not sharing revenue with college players are seeking far too much revenue for themselves, the NCAA says.

Hausfeld LLP filed a motion in November seeking more than $45.5 million in fees and an additional $5.3 in costs and expenses for the time that 32 firms spent litigating the landmark case. The rates listed in the filing ranged “from $985 for senior partners with more than 40 years’ experience to $175 for the most junior associate.”

Not surprisingly, the NCAA opposed the motion, and on Feb. 6 filed a brief in federal court in Oakland, California, arguing that the fees should be cut by $36.9 million and the costs and expenses by $4.9 million.

The NCAA lawyers, led by Robert Wierenga of Schiff Hardin LLP, argued that the fees were excessive because the plaintiffs hadn’t prevailed in their original claims, because the firms had “block billed” rather than delineating their fees and because some of the time spent was vague or otherwise ill-defined.

“Class counsel also impermissibly syndicated the case for its own financial gain with an unwieldy network of at least 34 firms. Many of them did very little work and added very little of substance, but padded the lodestar by billing thousands of hours of useless time,” according to the NCAA brief.

It wasn’t clear why Hausfeld listed 32 firms while the defense said there were 34. Efforts to reach Michael Hausfeld and Wierenga Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Hausfeld’s firm for its part had argued that the lawyers’ efforts were necessary “to match the dozens of accomplished attorneys litigating on the NCAA’s behalf, including partners and associates from WilmerHale, Munger, Tolles & Olson, and Schiff Hardin, as well as the hundreds of attorneys across the country representing the NCAA’s member schools and conferences,” along with other third parties and television broadcasters.

In August, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland held that rules barring college athletes from seeking a share of the NCAA’s $800 million in annual broadcast revenue violated federal antitrust law.

The lawsuit, filed in 2009 by ex-college basketball player Ed O’Bannon, challenged the treatment of students as amateurs as college basketball and football evolved into multibillion-dollar businesses, with money flowing to the NCAA, broadcasters, member schools and coaches — everyone but the players.

While the ruling was a victory for the athletes, Wilken limited the amount of money they can earn and said the NCAA could cap pay, although not below the cost of attending school.

The NCAA in November filed its appeal.

The case is O’Bannon v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 09-cv-03329, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland)