The NCAA added a new legal challenge to its already cumbersome caseload Thursday, as a trio of college athletes filed suit against the association and its five most powerful conferences claiming that rules that prohibit schools from paying their athletes violate antitrust law.
Duke football player Dewayne Carter, Stanford soccer player Nya Harrison and TCU basketball player Sedona Prince filed their 70-page complaint in the Northern District of California federal court, the same venue where the NCAA has lost a series of antitrust claims in the past decade. Their attorneys requested an injunction that would prevent the NCAA from enforcing rules that prohibit “pay for play” compensation for athletes and seeks damages for past payments the athletes would have received if the current rules were not in place.
“It’s time for the NCAA to recognize that the rules prohibiting athletes from sharing in the massive revenues we help to generate are harming all college athletes,” Carter said in a statement provided by his lawyers. “There are hundreds of people involved in NCAA sports but the only ones who cannot be paid are the athletes; I’m proud to stand up for all college athletes to correct that injustice.”
The three athletes are represented by Jeffrey Kessler and Steve Berman, who successfully sued the NCAA to remove any restrictions on academic-related payments in the Alston case that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2021. They also recently were granted class status for a different antitrust case (House v. NCAA) that is seeking billions of dollars that they claim the NCAA cost former athletes because of old rules that restricted athletes from making money through endorsement deals.
The lawsuit comes just two days after NCAA president Charlie Baker announced a new proposal that would allow schools to sign NIL deals directly with their athletes and share significant amounts of money for their players through a “enhanced educational trust fund.” Baker’s proposal stops short of allowing schools to pay athletes specifically for their athletic performance. He said during an interview at the Sports Business Journal’s Intercollegiate Athletics Forum this week that his plan would not turn athletes into employees of their school.
Baker and other leaders in college sports have been asking Congress to create a federal law that would prevent athletes from filing antitrust lawsuits like the case filed this week. He said getting such a law from Congress would be an important part in getting his broader proposal for the future of college sports put into place.
“I want a little antitrust exemption,” Baker said. “I just want something where if the NCAA and the federal government agree that something should be and can be a national standard, that we are allowed to actually have a national standard.”
Baker’s new proposal was referenced in the lawsuit filed Thursday. NCAA leaders and their attorneys have argued in past antitrust cases that paying players directly would cause catastrophic damage to college sports, which they say is an academic-first institution. The plaintiffs argued in their new lawsuit that Baker’s proposal provides evidence that the wealthiest schools could afford to pay their players.
“This step by the NCAA shows that paying college athletes is perfectly compatible with the big business of college sports and that the restrictions the NCAA seeks to maintain on these payments, including limiting them to “educational” benefits or payments through trust funds, cannot be justified in the current environment,” the lawsuit says.
The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
The pending House case based on NIL payments is scheduled to go to trial in January 2025.
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