Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon took the stand in federal court Monday in the first day of an antitrust trial against the NCAA in Oakland, Calif.
O'Bannon is the lead plaintiff in a case in which former Division I college athletes are seeking compensation for the billions of dollars schools earn in revenues.
O'Bannon explained that he spent most of his time in college focused on basketball and just enough on academics to stay eligible to play.
"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."
O'Bannon said his job at UCLA was to play basketball. That is why he spent time after games working on his shot instead of studying for his classes.
O'Bannon led UCLA to an NCAA title in 1995. He was a first-round draft pick of the New Jersey Nets that year but only played two seasons in the NBA. He played professionally overseas and in other leagues until 2004.
In college, O'Bannon said he dedicated at least 40 hours per week playing or preparing for games and about 12 hours a week on school work. He said he changed his major from communications to U.S. history after an academic adviser told him that it was a better fit for his athletics schedule.
"There were classes I took that were not easy classes but they fit my basketball schedule so I could make it to basketball practice," O'Bannon said.
The lawsuit was filed five years ago. O'Bannon and 19 other plaintiffs are requesting that U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken allow college athletes to sell the rights of their likeness in television broadcasts and rebroadcasts.
If the plaintiffs succeed, it could lead to some of the vast amounts of money generated by television contracts going to athletes for their participation after they complete their college careers.
O'Bannon joined the lawsuit after seeing his likeness used in a video game branded by the NCAA.
O'Bannon never received a degree from UCLA. After his professional career ended, he moved to Las Vegas and sells cars for a living. He admitted to receiving perks while at UCLA, including a free education and room and board. He also met his wife at school and enjoyed his relationship with coach Jim Harrick and the late John Wooden.
"Everyone who came in contact with (Wooden) loved him," O'Bannon said. "I was envious personally that I was born a little bit too late. I wished I could have played for him; he's that kind of man."
However, O'Bannon said under cross-examination that he believes athletes should be paid for some of the money schools make from the athletes' work.
"If they are generating revenue for their school, I believe they should be compensated at some point," he said.
Earlier Monday, the NCAA announced it reached a $20 million settlement in a similar case involving a different group of plaintiffs led by former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller. That case related to the use of athletes' images in video games without permission.