The NCAA added a new legal challenge to its already burdensome caseload on Thursday, as three college athletes filed suit against the association and its five most powerful conferences alleging that rules preventing schools from paying athletes violate antitrust law.
Duke football player Dewayne Carter, Stanford football player Nia Harrison and basketball player Sedona Prince filed their 70-page complaint in federal court for the Northern District of California, the same place where the NCAA lost a series of antitrust claims in last decade. Their attorneys have requested an injunction barring the NCAA from enforcing rules prohibiting “pay-to-play” compensation for athletes and are seeking damages for past payments the athletes would have received if the current rules were not in effect.
“It is time for the NCAA to realize that rules that prohibit athletes from sharing in the enormous revenues we help generate are harmful to 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 can’t get paid are the athletes, and I’m proud to stand with all college athletes to correct this 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 the Supreme Court upheld in 2021. They were also recently granted class status for a different group. An antitrust case (House v. NCAA) seeking billions of dollars they claim the NCAA cost former athletes because of archaic rules that prevented 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 athletes and share large sums of money with players through an “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 are 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 bill through Congress would be an important part of implementing his broader proposal for the future of college sports.
“I want a little bit of antitrust relief,” Baker said. “I just want something where if the NCAA and the federal government agree that something should and can be a national standard, then we are allowed to actually have a national standard.”
Baker’s new proposal was referenced in the lawsuit filed Thursday. NCAA leaders and their lawyers have argued in previous antitrust cases that paying players directly would cause catastrophic damage to college sports, which they say is an academic-first enterprise. The plaintiffs argued in their new lawsuit that Baker’s proposal provides evidence that the wealthiest schools are able to pay their players.
“This move by the NCAA shows that paying college athletes is fully consistent with the big business of college sports and that the restrictions the NCAA seeks to maintain on such payments, including limiting them to ‘educational’ benefits or payments from… During trusts, it cannot be applied.” “It is justified in the current environment,” the lawsuit says.
The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
The House case pending on the grounds of no payments is scheduled to go to trial in January 2025.
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