NCAA targeted in antitrust class action suit - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

NCAA targeted in antitrust class action suit

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association is under fire again, this time by a former West Virginia University football player who contends the athletic scholarships awarded by member schools fall short of the actual cost of attendance.

Nick Kindler, an offensive lineman from 2009-13, filed an antitrust class-action lawsuit against the NCAA and its member conferences, the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and ACC, claiming they agreed to unlawfully cap the value of athletic scholarships. The suit seeks to represent former NCAA Division I football bowl subdivision scholarship players from February 2010 on.

Kindler is represented by Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sopol Shapiro, which also represents Kindler’s former teammate, Shawne Alston, who filed a similar suit in March.

The suit complains that college athletes “are essentially working full-time football jobs and going 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,” it stated. “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) the average salary for major college football coaches is over $2 million, with some coaches earning over $7 million. The top football schools earn enormous amounts from football.”

The complaint says the NCAA and its member conferences “unlawfully cap the value” of athletic scholarships: substantially below what a player would receive for his services in a competitive market, and at an amount below what it costs to attend school.”

It quotes NCAA President Mark Emmert as acknowledging the inadequacy of the grant-in-aid to athletes in a December 2013 interview in which he said they’ve “been working on that for 2.5 years. They were talking about that long before I showed up. We don’t need a lawsuit to do the right thing. That’s important for people to know.”

It also points out that NCAA created the problem when it imposed a cap on grants-in-aid in 1956 and by subsequently removing the cost-of-attendance stipend in 1976.

“Despite the NCAA’s public comments concerning the needs of college athletes, the collusive cap on grants-in-aid remains in place,” the suit states, adding that the cap “has imposed a lower standard of living and significant hardship” on the athletes, who it says have much less time and ability to earn money through part-time jobs than do other students.

The suit points out total revenue for the 242 Division I schools in 2011 was “well over $3 billion, with the majority coming from the 120 Football Bowl subdivision schools.” It also pointed out that some conference leaders have argued in favor of the NCAA allowing them the autonomy to give athletes stipends to plug the gap between their scholarship and the actual cost of attendance.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses the NCAA and its members agencies of conspiring to violate antitrust laws and restraining free trade, and seeks an injunction barring the NCAA from enforcing the cap and a declaratory judgment voiding the cap as well as unspecified damages, pointing out that athletes “have been promised by their colleges and coaches that their educational pursuits will be fully supported with a ‘full’ scholarship, but, despite record revenues, they have never fully funded this promise. This leaves most players and their families unprepared for the financial demands that they must address.”

It suggests NCAA and member schools have “reasonable, and less restrictive alternatives” open to them, including offering athletes competitive financial aid packages from which to choose.

“Such incremental competition would allay the fears (even though unfounded) of those that decry the repercussions of an instantaneous transition to a wide-open free market, with every school making its own independent decisions,” it said.

Without the NCAA restrictions, the suit says schools “would compete for heavily recruited athletes like Kindler and pay at least the full cost of attendance.” It seeks an injunction to prohibit any agreement on capping GIAs below the cost of attendance and past damages for players who had to pay the difference between their scholarship and the cost of attendance as a result of the agreement.

It also sees unspecified damages, plus attorney fees and court costs.

A statement issued by Hagens Berman quotes Kindler as saying change is “long overdue.”

“From early on in my college playing career, I noticed that players very often got the short end of the stick on a number of basic issues,” he said. “The only answer I could get as to why was, ‘That’s how the system is.’

“I hope that now I can help change that NCAA system for the better. It’s the right thing to do.”

Kindler graduated from WVU with an undergraduate degree in criminology and investigations, a master’s in legal studies and an estimated $15,000 in student debt. He’s currently working to complete an additional graduate certificate in non-profit management at WVU, the suit stated.

An NCAA spokesmen could not be reached for comment by press time.