Fight for Legal Fees Begins in $209 Million Student-Athlete vs. NCAA Settlement

On Wednesday September 6, 2017, plaintiff’s lawyers in a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, which settled for $208.7 million, filed for nearly $45 million in legal fees and costs. More than $41 million of that amount would cover attorney’s fees, $3.2 million would cover costs and expenses, and $20,000 each would go as a reward to the four class representatives. The overall fee request would make up only 21.5 percent of the settlement.

The lawyers argue the fee request is adequate considering the Ninth Circuit’s 25 percent fee benchmark, the risk the lawyers took in not receiving any compensation, and the enormous amount of work that went into the litigation. Discovery resulted in over 2.8 million pages of documents, and more than 50 depositions were conducted. The deal is the second-largest legal settlement in NCAA history.

The case had begun in March 2014 on behalf of former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston. For years, NCAA scholarships could not cover more than tuition, books, and room & board. Alston argued the limit was an illegal cap and the scholarship should cover the “cost of attendance,” which also includes broader expenses like clothing, off-campus meals, and travel. NCAA had altered its scholarship limits in 2015 to include the full cost of attendance, so Alston asserted that athletes who received scholarships between 2009 and 2016 — but who had not received the cost of attendance adjustments — were still entitled to the money.

The settlement will compensate tens of thousands of college athletes who received those traditional sports scholarships. The number of class members in the suit grew significantly since the settlement was reached in February. The now approximately 45,000 current and former athletes in the class will each receive an average of $6,000.

The amount to each athlete will depend on the number of years they were on the scholarship and the difference between the scholarship and their school’s cost of attendance at the time. The NCAA has said all the money in the settlement will come from their own financial reserves. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken gave preliminary approval to the deal in March, and she is scheduled to hold a final-approval hearing on Nov. 17.

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