Northern Illinois University Football Player Files Antitrust Lawsuit against NCAA for Player Transfer Restrictions

03/08/2016

Class action calls NCAA’s transfer rules unlawful “restraints” that bar fair competition

INDIANAPOLIS – A Division I college-athlete at Northern Illinois University (NIU) who was deprived of the ability to freely transfer to another National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-member school due to what the suit calls the NCAA’s “unlawful”  transfer rules is challenging the sports-governing body in court, claiming that the NCAA’s transfer regulations violate federal antitrust laws, according to Hagens Berman.

“The NCAA’s limitation on the mobility of college athletes is patently unlawful. For a striking contrast, one can simply examine the unfettered mobility of the players’ coaches… This ability to better their own situation has allowed coaches to reap enormous financial benefits... Players, however, suffer a severe penalty for transferring – the loss of a year of athletics eligibility. This can make them a very unattractive option for coaches who are under constant ‘win now’ pressure,” the suit states.

The lawsuit filed Mar. 8, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana states that the NCAA’s limitation on football players’ ability to transfer to another Division I football team is “anticompetitive” and an unlawful restraint on fair competition that bars college-athletes from the freedoms enjoyed by other adults in this country.

The lawsuit seeks to represent any NCAA Division I football player who, since November 2011, sought to transfer from one NCAA Division I football school to another, but was athletically ineligible to participate in NCAA Division I football for any period of time under the NCAA’s transfer rules. If you have information you believe is important to the case, contact Hagens Berman.

“The NCAA’s current draconian rules bar college-athletes from a fair working environment – the same level playing field afforded to those players’ coaches – and prevent players from taking full advantage of their potential athletic and academic options,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and lead attorney representing the class of college-athletes. “The NCAA maintains that its rules exist for the sake of fair play, but the NCAA’s regulations that it forces upon college-athletes restricting transfers are blatantly unfair.”

The student named in the lawsuit, Peter Deppe was a punter for NIU’s Division I football team, according to the complaint. Deppe also performed well academically, majoring in mechanical engineering and achieving a 3.1 GPA. 

With the support of NIU’s coaching staff, Deppe was designated as a redshirt player for his first year at the university, to allow him time to grow and mature as a player and still have a full four years of athletics eligibility beginning with the 2015 season, according to the suit.

In August 2014, NIU’s special teams coach told him that he would begin receiving an athletic scholarship in January of 2015, but the special teams coach subsequently left NIU to accept a coaching position at the University of Kansas. Deppe then was informed by head coach Rod Carey that he would not be receiving the athletic scholarship. NIU signed another punter, which significantly reduced Deppe’s prospects for achieving playing time in the future or for obtaining the previously withdrawn scholarship offer.

After obtaining official letters of release from NIU, Deppe took a recruiting visit to the University of Iowa, and the coaching staff told Deppe that they wanted him on the team if he would be eligible to play in the fall of 2016.

In September 2015, Mr. Deppe’s parents contacted the NCAA regarding whether Mr. Deppe would be eligible to play in the fall of 2016. The NCAA indicated that, because Mr. Deppe sought to transfer from one school to another, NCAA rules mandated that he would be ineligible for athletic competition for one year. After being admitted to Iowa for academic purposes, Deppe was passed-over for another punter who had immediate eligibility and was not pursuing a waiver.

“The NCAA’s artificial transfer protocols unfairly punish students for circumstances out of their control,” Berman said. “While players can immediately play when they are freshmen, someone who has at least some college under his / her belt has a better idea of what college is about and how to juggle college sports and college academics.”

“Peter’s case is a prime example of the backwards logic the NCAA uses to justify its anticompetitive regulations, “Berman added. “The NCAA says these rules are needed to help students get acclimated to a new school, but Peter’s case shows just how groundless this argument is. We believe that the NCAA’s rule needs to change, and that Peter and the thousands of other college-athletes that fall victim to the NCAA’s rigged system of rules should be compensated for the losses they have suffered.”

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About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with offices in 10 cities. The firm has been named to the National Law Journal’s Plaintiffs’ Hot List eight times. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.

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