On November 5, 2015, a class action was filed against the NCAA in Indiana federal court. The NCAA, which has been the target of several lawsuits over student-athlete compensation restrictions, is now being attacked for anti-competitive transfer regulations.
Devin Pugh, named plaintiff and former Weber State cornerback, challenges the NCAA’s year-in-residence requirement and seeks to abolish scholarship caps. The NCAA’s current residency restrictions require student-athletes to take one season off when transferring between top-level schools. In the complaint, Pugh urges that the “NCAA’s limitation on the mobility of college athletes in patently unlawful.” Pugh asserts that the rule is unfair and arbitrary as it is not applied to coaches in the same manner. “For a striking contrast, one can simply examine the unfettered mobility of the players’ coaches,” the suit provides. The plaintiff further maintains the position that the transfer rules and scholarship limits have “injured thousands of student-athletes by causing them to either lose an opportunity to transfer schools or give up a year of play.”
During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Pugh received a scholarship for his contributions to Weber State’s Division I football program. Although promised that his scholarship package would be renewed annually as long as he remained eligible for NCAA competitions, his scholarship was revoked by his former coaches successor. According to the complaint, Pugh had subsequent offers from other top football programs such as, Colorado, Colorado State, and Troy, however, the offers were contingent on his ability to play at least two seasons. When the NCAA refused to grant Pugh a hardship waiver as an exception to the year-in-residence requirement, the teams rescinded their scholarship offers. As a result, Pugh transferred to the Division II Colorado State-Pueblo where he received a scholarship that was substantially less than what he received at Weber State, allegedly requiring him to borrow double the amount of money for tuition and expenses.
The complaint argues that the transfer restrictions and the “artificial” scholarship cap, limiting the amount of grants that schools can award, cause students to sustain “expenses and/or hardships” that they would not otherwise incur. The suit provides, “[o]nce their scholarships are terminated, Division I football student-athletes who wish to remain in school face three unpalatable options: “(i) pay tuition out of pocket, often by taking on tens of thousands in loans, (ii) uproot themselves and transfer to another institution that will provide them with a scholarship, or (iii) uproot themselves and transfer to a new school and pay tuition.”
This suit comes at a time when the NCAA faces several other lawsuits challenging the association’s concussion protocol, student-athlete compensation, and scholarship restrictions. In the present suit, Pugh seeks damages, reasonable attorney fees, and declarations that the challenged NCAA rules are unlawful. The NCAA will have 60 days from the complaint’s date to file its answer.