Athletes are quickly learning to calculate how to best cash in on the enormous money made in college sports.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is now being forced into a trial by football and basketball players seeking a share of $800 million a year in licensing fees for televised games.

The case is part of a movement by current and former college athletes to secure compensation, and greater medical benefits, control over their images and labor protections in a system that considers them amateurs. The athletes aren’t paid despite generating sponsorship, ticket and merchandise revenue in addition to that from TV contracts.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, California, said a trial will be needed in June after lawyers on each side failed at a hearing yesterday to persuade her to rule in its favor without one.

Lawyers for the NCAA, the governing body for major college sports, argued that games are public events that aren’t commercial in nature and therefore fall within free-speech protections under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

“I don’t really buy the commercial speech argument,” Wilken said yesterday. She said she will issue a written order soon on the lawyers’ requests for a judgment without trial.

Glenn Pomerantz, an NCAA attorney, said whoever controls the stadium and sells the tickets has the right to sell broadcast licensing rights. Players don’t have any rights over the use of their names and likenesses in live broadcasts because the games are events of public interest protected by the First Amendment, he said.

…While the claims have mostly survived the NCAA’s attempts to have them dismissed, the judge has limited the plaintiffs’ ability to seek damages for thousands of current and former athletes.

Wilken ruled in November that the athletes could sue as a group for the right to negotiate licensing deals, while barring them from banding together to seek revenue from broadcasts they appear in. Each athlete’s potential damages would vary according to how often they appeared in game footage, making a blanket revenue deal inappropriate, she said.

Michael Hausfeld, a lawyer for the athletes, said there’s “no distinction between college athletes and professional players” regarding licensing rights for live sporting events.

“They are both athletes,” he said, and use of professional athletes names and images are a part of the broadcast licenses.

Wilken said she can’t block entities that already have licenses with the NCAA from using players’ names and images.