New Anti-Trust Lawsuit Adds to NCAA Woes, Includes Current Players

Source: Jon Solomon/CBSSports

Fourteen current and former college athletes filed their consolidated class-action complaint Friday against the NCAA and 11 Division I conferences, alleging they illegally cap football and basketball scholarships “substantially” below players’ value in a competitive market and the cost to attend school.

The case is the next major antitrust threat for the NCAA, which is awaiting a ruling from last month’s Ed O’Bannon trial over the use of players’ names, images and likenesses. The 168-page amended complaint alleges the NCAA and its conferences unlawfully restrain trade in the market for Division I football players, Division I men’s basketball players and Division I women’s basketball players.

The Shawne Alston, Shariff Floyd, Nick Kindler, Kendall Gregory-McGhee and Alex Lauricella plaintiffs were grouped together last month. They seek to represent all football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players in Division I who received a scholarship since March 5, 2010. They particularly are going after the five major conferences — the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten.

The Martin Jenkins lawsuit that aggressively seeks a free market for athletes when they’re recruited, brought by prominent sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler, is not part of the consolidated complaint. Kessler was allowed to proceed in the Northern District of California separately but after the other plaintiffs, Alston attorney Steve Berman said.

The amended complaint in some ways crystalized the direction of the case. It argues that if not for the cap on scholarship values, players would not only receive an increase but “every player likely would receive further additional compensation above the Cost of Attendance.”

The plaintiffs want an injunction that prevents the NCAA and the conferences from maintaining its financial-aid limits and damages for the difference between scholarships awarded and the cost of attendance. The cost-of-attendance gap for a full scholarship Football Bowl Subdivision player ranged from $1,000 to $6,904 a year, according to a 2012 study.

The amended complaint includes two current athletes as named plaintiffs: Arkansas State defensive end Chris Stone and North Florida men’s basketball player Chris Davenport. Three former women’s basketball players are in the complaint, raising the possibility that Title IX will become a factor in this case, unlike in the O’Bannon lawsuit. Floyd, a former Florida football player now on the Minnesota Vikings, is the most high-profile plaintiff.

The NCAA, which unsuccessfully tried to pass a cost-of-attendance stipend in 2011, votes next month to give Division I major conferences authority to provide more benefits to players, such as the full cost of attendance. The language from the pending O’Bannon ruling by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken could significantly impact the scholarship litigation she also oversees.

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