U.S. District Court Rules NCAA Policy Governing Scholarship Limit Should Go to Trial

SEATTLE – The national class-action lawsuit filed against the NCAA on behalf of a former NCAA Division I-A football player in May, 2004 will go to trial, according to a court ruling handed down Wednesday.

The complaint alleges that the NCAA's practice of limiting athletic scholarships exploit walk-on players who make up nearly a third of Division I-A college football rosters around the nation.

The suit argues that, in a cartel-like practice, the NCAA reduced the number of scholarships a school can offer to 85 as a way to reduce expenses and maximize the profitability at the detriment of the student athletes and in violation of antitrust laws.

The complaint also alleges that the restraint has an impact on poorer students, who may not be able to attend a Division I-A school without scholarships available for walk-ons.

In his ruling denying the NCAA's motion to dismiss the case, Judge Coughenour of the Western Washington District Court rejected the NCAA claim that they are not subject to antitrust laws as they are a non-commercial organization with armature status.

"Judge Coughenour's ruling that the NCAA is subject to the antitrust laws under Sherman Act is a significant step forward in this case," said Steve Berman, lead attorney representing players denied scholarships.

Judge Coughenour wrote that the Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts that the NCAA has a monopoly power over college football and should have the opportunity to demonstrate that this monopoly caused antitrust injury.

"We are very pleased with the ruling to move the case to trial," said Berman. "Walk-on players practice just as long and hard as players with scholarships and often devote more time to weight lifting and other activities that help the team and it's time they receive the same recognition for their dedication and service."

Division I-A college football generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues for the NCAA and its participating institutions. According to figures published by the NCAA, postseason college football alone generated more than $227 million in total revenues in 2003, and distributed $181 million to affiliated colleges. On average, every Division I-A school received $10.92 million in NCAA revenue from its football program, and typically received millions more from stadium ticket sales, licensed merchandise, and other revenue streams related to the football team.

"Stadiums don't sweat through two-a-day practices. Coaches with million dollar salaries don't run hours of wind sprints," said Berman. "We intend to prove that the NCAA and its affiliated colleges exploit hardworking players while encouraging colleges to spend on superficial adornments."

The average number of players on a roster of a typical Division I-A football team is 117. The projected cost of adding an additional 32 scholarships for all roster players in Division I-A football would cost an estimated $600,000 per school, while the average Division I-A football team earns nearly $5 million in excess revenue, the suit states.

Andy Carroll, the named plaintiff in the suit, earned a position on the University of Washington football roster for the 1996-2000 seasons, playing wide receiver and a special teams position, and graduating in 2000. Even though many smaller schools recruited him, Carroll chose the University of Washington because of its Division I-A status.

"When I began my football career at UW, I was also led to believe that if I played hard and played during the regular season in games, I had a shot at a scholarship," said Carroll. "After my junior year when I had been playing in games I asked about a scholarship and I was told none were available due to the scholarship restrictions."

The suit seeks an end to the NCAA rule on number of scholarships awarded in Division I-A football, and damages for football walk-ons who were harmed by this policy.

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