Court Grants Sweeping Win to Student-Athletes in NCAA Scholarships Class-Action Lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken overseeing a nationwide class action regarding NCAA-imposed caps to student-athletes’ scholarships today ruled in favor of the class of student-athletes granting their motion for summary judgment, finding the NCAA’s actions to be  anticompetitive, causing student-athletes to be compensated less than they would be without the challenged rules, according to Hagens Berman.

The ruling clears the way for attorneys to  go to trial in December of this year.

“We consider this a home run win, as the court granted us a victory on every critical issue we sought,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, and attorney representing the class of student-athletes. “A key part of Judge Wilken’s order is that the court recognizes that our alternative of individual conferences being allowed to decide what is in the best interest of the student-athletes is a viable option, and we will be allowed to show that to be the case at trial.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Steve Berman of Hagens Berman and Jeff Kessler of Winston & Strawn.

The judge’s ruling will put front and center at trial plaintiffs’ proposed less-restrictive alternative of allowing the Division I conferences, rather than the NCAA, to set the rules regulating education and athletic participation expenses that the member institutions may provide.

The judge’s order states: "Plaintiffs argue that this alternative would be substantially less restrictive because it would allow conferences to compete to implement rules that attract student-athletes while still maintaining the popularity of college sports and balancing the integration of academics and athletics.”

“To support their argument that such autonomy is viable as a less restrictive alternative to NCAA regulations, Plaintiffs have identified new NCAA Bylaws, adopted on August 7, 2014 (after the O’Bannon trial), that grant the Power Five Conferences autonomy to adopt or amend rules on a variety of topics.”

According to attorneys, the ruling from Judge Wilken sides with plaintiffs in recognizing that the NCAA’s rules and behavior with regards to student-athletes’ scholarships constituted an anticompetitive agreement with tangible effects, and restrain athletes and limit athletes’ compensation.

“We’ve proven to the court already that the NCAA’s actions constitute anticompetitive behavior causing injury to student-athletes,” Berman said. “Now, the court will put the NCAA to the test to prove its rationalization for the scholarship caps is justified.”

The first-of-its-kind suit alleges the NCAA and its most powerful conference members the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big-12, SEC and ACC systematically colluded to disrupt the free market and robbed NCAA Division I players of the full economic benefits of their labor. The lawsuit argues that in a just scenario, free of the NCAA’s antitrust collusion, schools would gladly compete for the attendance of talented student-athletes by at least providing the full cost of attendance through Grants in Aid (GIAs).

In late 2017, Judge Wilken granted final approval of a $208 million settlement on behalf of tens of thousands of current and former NCAA Division 1 student-athletes. The class has asked the court to issue a $78,893 appeal bond against Darrin Duncan, the only person out of 53,748 class members to object to the deal.

Affected NCAA student-athletes can visit the settlement website for a more specific calculation of their individual recovery and eligibility. 

The case specifically affects all Division I collegiate athletes who played men’s or women’s basketball, or Football Bowl Subdivision football between Mar. 5, 2010 and the date of preliminary approval of the settlement, Mar. 21, 2017, and who received from an NCAA member institution for at least one academic term (such as a semester or quarter) (1) a full athletics GIA required by NCAA rules to be set at a level below the cost of attendance, and/or (2) an otherwise full athletics GIA.

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