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Death of the NCAA: Eliminating Financial Aid Limitations for Student Athletes

Death of the NCAA: Eliminating Financial Aid Limitations for Student Athletes

Michael Gan

After winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship in 2014, University of Connecticut’s star player Shabazz Napier made waves when he said, “Sometimes, there’s hungry nights where I am not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities.”[1] While past media coverage focused on paying student athletes for their contributions to university revenues, Napier’s statement refocused the issue on the possibility that their basic needs are not being fully met. It’s crazy to think that during a time where coaches’ salaries are on the rise, multi-billion dollar television contracts are being signed, and many millions more are collected in ticket sales, student-athletes are struggling to feed themselves.

This Note analyzes the pending consolidated cases of Alston and Jenkins v. NCAA in the Northern District of California, where current and former student athletes are seeking class action damages for Sherman Act violations as well as injunctive relief.[2] In order to bring a successful lawsuit against the NCAA, the plaintiffs will have to show: (1) participation in an agreement and (2) that the agreement unreasonably restrains trade in the relevant market.[3]

Similar to the White v. NCAA case, the plaintiffs will establish that the relevant market is the Division I football and basketball players market, with the relevant geographic area the United States.[4] In this market, universities are competing for the services of players but are limited in the amount of financial aid they can give.[5] In other words, the NCAA artificially controls the input market of players that is required to make the output of college football.

After establishing the market and agreement that restricts trade, the burden shifts to the defendants to establish procompetitive justifications for the restraint, in other words to show that the restraints are not unreasonable.[6] The NCAA will likely bring arguments that the financial aid limitations are to: (1) preserve amateurism; (2) maintain competitive equity; and (3) reduce costs. However, none of these arguments will likely succeed. In addition, the plaintiffs can make a strong argument for injunctive relief. In order to get injunctive relief, the plaintiffs must show: (1) irreparable injury; (2) inadequacy of legal remedies; (3) a balance of hardships tipping in favor of the party seeking the injunction; and (4) consideration of the public interest.[7] While in the past courts have been content with only awarding monetary damages, this case is special in that it includes current student athletes as plaintiffs as well. As the NCAA fights these lawsuits in court, individual conferences are already taking steps to remedy the gap between financial aid limitations and full cost of attendance. The plaintiffs have a long fight ahead of them, however brighter days are ahead.

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at LawReview@vermontlaw.edu.


[1] Alicia Jessop, The NCAA Approves Unlimited Meals For Division I Athletes After Shabazz Napier Complains Of Going Hungry: The Lesson For Other College Athletes, Forbes (Apr. 15, 2014, 6:42 PM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/aliciajessop/2014/04/15/the-ncaa-approves-unlimited-meals-for-division-i-athletes-after-shabazz-napier-complains-of-going-hungry-the-lesson-for-other-college-athletes/.

[2] Complaint and Jury Demand, Alston v. NCAA, No. 3:14-cv-01011 (N.D. Cal. filed Mar. 5, 2014); Complaint and Jury Demand, Jenkins v. NCAA, No. 14 CV 3:33-av-00001 (D. N.J. filed Mar. 17, 2014) (Kessler).

[3] Law v. NCAA, 134 F.3d 1010, 1016 (10th Cir. 1998).

[4] White v. NCAA, CV 06-999-RGK 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101366, at *19 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 20, 2006).

[5] Complaint and Jury Demand, Jenkins v. NCAA, No. 14 CV 3:33-av-00001, 20 (D. N.J. filed March 17, 2014).

[6] Law v. NCAA, 134 F.3d 1010, 1019 (10th Cir. 1998).

[7] eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 391 (2006).

 

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