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Lawsuits & Litigation

Judgment Against the NCAA Entitles Athletes to a Payday

— February 10, 2017

A judgment against the NCAA entitles athletes to a payday to potentially worth thousands of dollars each. The award is part of a larger antitrust lawsuit which claims the organization had shorted its student athletes on scholarships.

Before making changes to cost-of-attendance scholarships, the NCAA had only given its athletes money to cover tuition, books, room, and board. Shawne Alston, a former running back from West Virginia, initiated the litigation in 2014. He charged that players were being forced to pay out of pocket for expenses which normally fall under the umbrella of “cost-of-attendance” expenses. Alston believed the funds he received were not adequate to pay for clothing, off-campus meals, and travel home during summer and semester breaks.

Conferences governing big teams were named as plaintiffs but were not part of the settlement; image courtesy of TB archive
Conferences governing big teams were named as plaintiffs but were not part of the settlement; image courtesy of TB archive

US District Judge Claudia Wilkin, who allowed the case to become a class action lawsuit, presided over a settlement to the tune of $208.7. Unlike similar actions taken against pharmaceutical companies and reckless businesses, claimants won’t have to file to receive their share of what’s owed. The NCAA will simply mail out checks for between $3,000 and $8,000 to thousands of sportsmen and women, drawing the funds from its own endowment. The payout has the potential to kick the breath out of the organization, which had been accumulating savings in case its traditional sources of income, such as primetime advertisements, ever failed.

Several charges stemming from the same lawsuit remain unresolved. Alston and his fellow plaintiffs had also sought to remove limits which determine how much college athletes can receive for scholarships; lawyers leading the charge against the NCAA argue that the current limits violate antitrust laws.

The award which was already settled by the NCAA is not inclusive of tens of millions of dollars in legal fees which the association has agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Had they continued to fight the case, the NCAA might have been held liable for far more in damages. The result now is that athletes who participated and were deemed eligible for compensation will be refunded amounts approximate to what they were forced to cover on their own.

The decision did not mark the first time the NCAA had faced legal challenges over its treatment of student athletes. Over the past several years, the NCAA has been hit with a series of lawsuits. Among the most prominent was brought by Ed O’Bannon, a retired professional basketball player and 1995 NCAA champion. O’Bannon had suggested that the organization and its constituent conferences were violating antitrust laws by refusing to compensate players for the use of their likenesses in video games; the same principle was also applied to nonexistent royalties for apparel sales.

While the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal after lower legs of the judiciary determined that the character of collegiate athletics would be compromised if athletes were compensated with more than just tuition, it did set a precedent for the litigation still underway by Alston and his cohorts.


An Amateurism Challenge Evaporates, but Others Loom for NCAA

Athletes Stand to Gain in Settlement with N.C.A.A.

NCAA to pay $208.7 million settlement over cost of attendance scholarships


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