Important NCAA Lawsuits

NCAA v. Board of Regents (1984)

The board of regents of two schools, the University of Georgia and the University of Oklahoma, challenged the NCAA’s television plan. Prior to this case, the NCAA controlled and negotiated the television rights for all NCAA schools. The NCAA’s plan limited the number of national television appearances and spread television rights money more equally amongst the member schools. The plan lead major football schools to form the College Football Association which negotiated a separate television contract that prompted the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court ruled that NCAA control of television rights violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion which found that the NCAA’s television plan restricted supply, raised prices, and could not be used to protect live attendance at football games. The Supreme Court opinion also mentioned the NCAA can pass rules related to its mission to promote amateur, collegiate athletics.

Full decision

NCAA v. Tarkanian (1988)

In 1977, the NCAA sanctioned the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for questionable recruiting practices. UNLV suspended head coach Jerry Tarkanian, whose previous school Long Beach State was put on probation for recruiting violations after he left. Tarkanian sued the NCAA and won an injunction in Nevada state court. The NCAA challenged the injunction in a case that eventually was argued before the Supreme Court

Justice John Paul Stevens again delivered the opinion of the court in a close 5-4 decision. The Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA was not a state actor, and thus was not subject to the same sort of due process requirements as a governmental agency. The NCAA was not found to be sufficiently entangled with state universities, nor was it found that UNLV, a public university, delegated enough authority to the NCAA to make the association a state actor.

Full decision

NCAA v. Miller (1993)

In the wake of the Tarkanian case, the state of Nevada passed a law which attempted to force the NCAA to provide additional due process protections to institutions, coaches, and student-athletes in Nevada. The law also prevented the NCAA from retaliating against Nevada schools for the law.

The NCAA challenged the law based on the Dormant Commerce Clause, a corollary to the Commerce Clause, which prevents a state from passing laws which unduly burden interstate commerce. The NCAA won the case in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, with Nevada’s state law being deemed unconstitutional.

Full decision

Law v. NCAA (1998)

In 1991, after salaries for part-time coaches had reached full-time levels, the NCAA created a category of coaches known as “restricted earnings coaches.” Restricted earnings coaches had their salaries capped at $16,000 per year. The coaches challenged the salary cap as a violation of antitrust law. The 10th Circuit ruled that the restricted earnings cap violated antitrust law and did not fall under the NCAA’s antitrust exemption from the Board of Regents case.

In addition to winning an injunction against the rule, the coaches affected won a judgment on back pay. That issue was not settled until 2009 when the NCAA and the coaches settled for $54.5 million in back pay.

Full decision

Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (2001)

While not including the NCAA as a party, this case is important going forward for the NCAA. Brentwood Academy was a private high school that was sanctioned by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association for recruiting violations. Brentwood sued the TSSAA alleging that the sanctions violated the school’s due process.

Unlike the Tarkanian case, the Supreme Court ruled that the TSSAA was a state actor. The court found that unlike the NCAA, the TSSAA involved more public schools and was confined to and operating under the laws of one state. This case has called into question whether the Tarkanian case would survive if it were challenged, given that it was a close 5-4 decision to begin with.

Full decision

Worldwide Basketball and Sports Tours Inc. v. NCAA (2004)

Worldwide Basketball was a promoter of early-season men’s basketball tournaments. Prior to this lawsuit, the NCAA only permitted men’s basketball teams to participate in exempt tournaments twice every four years. Worldwide Basketball sued the NCAA saying the “two-in-four” rule violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. The NCAA lost in the district court but won their appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit ruled that the district court used the wrong antitrust analysis and that Worldwide Basketball did not define a relevant market.

Despite the victory in the appeals court, the NCAA ultimately changed the “two-in-four” rule. The current rule allows teams to participate in exempt tournaments every year.

Full decision

White v. NCAA (2008)

This case involved a challenge by student-athletes to the NCAA’s restrictions on the value of athletic scholarships. The NCAA limits athletic scholarships to tuition, mandatory fees, room, board, and required books. This is less than the cost of attendance which also includes optional fees, school supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses. The student-athletes argued that the NCAA’s full grant-in-aid definition was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

After some early victories for the student-athletes, the NCAA settled the case. Under the settlement, schools were permitted to purchase health insurance for athletes and two funds that provided benefits to student-athletes were combined and allowed to be used for more purposes. The NCAA also set up a $10 million fund that past athletes could receive either a cash payment or additional money for further education.

Pending Cases

O’Bannon v. NCAA and EA Sports

Ed O’Bannon and a number of former student-athletes have sued the NCAA for antitrust violations arising from the use of student-athlete likenesses in video games. The suit has since expanded to include the licensing (or lack there of) of student-athlete likenesses in media broadcasts.

Status: Currently seeking class certification.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. NCAA

Following the unprecedented sanctions against Penn State, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, acting through Governor Tom Corbett, sued the NCAA, seeking to overturn all the sanctions as a violation of antitrust law. The suit alleges that the NCAA did not follow its own rules in punishing Penn State.

Status: Complaint filed.

McNair v. NCAA

Todd McNair was a former University of Southern California figure which the NCAA Committee on Infractions found was a key link in the Reggie Bush case. McNair received a one-year show-cause order that resulted in his firing and apparent black-balling from college football. McNair has sued the NCAA alleging defamation.

Status: Currently in discovery.

Bield Sports v. NCAA

Bield Sports was a promoter of high profile tournaments between high school basketball teams, typically over the holidays. In 2011, after a long legislative and interpretive process, the NCAA ruled that such tournaments could not be held on Division I campuses. Bield Sports was forced to cancel tournaments at the last minute and ultimately folded. The company is suing the NCAA for antitrust violations.

Status: Complaint filed.

Arrington v. NCAA

Adrian Arrington, a former college football player, gives his name to the class action lawsuit against the NCAA alleging that the association and its members were negligent in handling student-athlete concussions. Specifically, the plaintiffs attack recently passed NCAA rules regarding concussions because they require the athlete to report the concussion.

Status: Currently in discovery.

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