NCAA, conferences are sued over scholarship value
Former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston sued the NCAA and five major conferences Wednesday, saying they violated antitrust laws by agreeing to cap the value of an athletic scholarship at less than the actual cost of attending school.
Attorneys Steve Berman and Bruce Simon, who have been involved in cases challenging the NCAA’s ability to sell college athletes’ likeness to video-game makers, filed the proposed class-action lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco.
Alston, a running back for West Virginia from 2009-12, is the only named plaintiff. The lawsuit also seeks to represent all scholarship football players who have played since February 2010 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference.
"We just received a copy of the complaint and are evaluating it as it relates to similar cases filed by the very same plaintiffs’ counsel," NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement.
The lawsuits said players essentially work full-time football jobs while they go to school.
"The NCAA and Power Conference Defendants have studied and acknowledged that a so-called `full ride’ scholarship does not cover the full cost of attending school," the lawsuit said. "Athletes are often a few thousand dollars short for the typical expenses of a student. These costs include money for gas, food, and other necessities. While players scrimp, coaches and universities most certainly do not. The average salary for major college football coaches is over $2 million, with some coaches earning over $7 million."
Alston had to take out a $5,500 loan to cover the difference between his scholarship and actual costs of attendance, the lawsuit said. It said if a free market existed in major-college football, cost of attendance, and possibly more, would be included in a scholarship.
The lawsuit asks that the NCAA and the five conferences discontinue the practice of not including the actual cost of attendance in scholarships. It also asks for members of the class to receive damages in the amount of the difference between the value of their scholarships and their actual costs of attendance.
The NCAA and other power brokers already are facing challenges to the traditional model of college athletics.
Two weeks ago, the National Labor Relations Board met in Chicago to hear a request from Northwestern University football players to form what would be the first college athletes’ union in U.S. history. Attorneys suggested that the highly regimented structure of football at Northwestern, and the tight control of players’ daily lives, essentially make it a business, and the relationship of the school to the players was one of an employer to employee.
Also last month, a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., ruled former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s class-action lawsuit against the NCAA would go to trial barring a settlement. O’Bannon’s case asks the NCAA to share with college athletes the hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue generated from the use of their likeness in video games and other media.