The NCAA has been on trial for one week now in the Ed O’Bannon antitrust case, and the trial got it’s first major jolt today when it was announced that embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert would testify on Thursday. Emmert has been NCAA president since April 2010 and has been a vocal critic of the pay-for-play amateurism model proposed by the O’Bannon plaintiffs.

The announcement that Emmert would testify comes two weeks after a settlement was reached between the college players represented in the suit and Electronic Arts (EA) and the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), who have been releasing annual NCAA video games for the last 11 years. The players challenged the rights of the NCAA to use players’ images and likeness for commercial purchases and settled, marking the first time that former college athletes were paid for their performances.

But the $2,000 to $4,000 each former player received is chump change compared to what’s at stake as Ed O’Bannon faces off against the NCAA, the last remaining defendant from the suit. The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar organization that could be bankrupted if the judge awards the plaintiffs everything they want. That means that this this lawsuit could determine if Mark Emmert (he of the $1.7 million per year salary) will be out of a job, so it’s not exactly a shock that he will take to the stand to defend the governing body’s role in college sports.

It’s not the first time Emmert has spoken publicly about the O’Bannon lawsuit, though Emmert is surely hoping his testimony goes better than his train-wreck of an appearance on ESPN’s Mike and Mike in April. Emmert got roundly ripped for his hyperbolic statements regarding play-for-play in the interview, comments that have been preserved on Twitter.

He’ll have to answer for those comments Thursday, in testimony that will be the most publicized moments of the weeklong trial. Emmert will be defending the current NCAA model against one of the biggest legal challenges it has ever faced. Given his role within the NCAA, Thursday should be a huge day for not just the O’Bannon trial, but the future of college sports.

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