California Court Strikes Down NCAA Student-Athletes Document Request on Pac-12 ESports Competitions

A California judge has denied student-athletes’ request for production of PAC-12 Conference’s documents regarding ESports competition between its members schools.

As background, the plaintiffs, student-athletes, filed suit against the NCAA regarding its rules that prohibit universities from offering athletic scholarships exceeding a full grant-in-aid — one that covers up to the full cost of attendance. Essentially, the plaintiffs alleged that the value of their scholarships was illegally capped, because the “Power Five” conferences passed NCAA Legislation, in January, 2015, which “allowed for schools to increase the cost of an athletic scholarship to help include expenses beyond tuition such as room and board, books and fees.

On February 14, 2017, the plaintiffs moved for production of the documents, arguing that the documents would undermine the NCAA’s “amateurism defense.” The plaintiffs alleged that if the NCAA was willing to pay student video game players, then the defense against paying student-athletes is flimsy and without merit.

In rejecting the plaintiffs’ production request, the court found that the “documents are tangential to the fight over the NCAA’s cap on athlete scholarships.” Notably, the court held that “Plaintiffs have already discovered. . . much more direct information about the revenues and expenditures in college athletics. . . [and thus,] discovery about video game competitions would be tangential to the claims and defenses in this case.

Some of the student-athletes have already begun efforts to settle their claims, in which the NCAA agreed to pay $208.7 million as part of the settlement deal. The NCAA stated that they “only settled this case because the terms are consistent with Division I financial aid rules,” which allow student-athletes to receive financial assistance up to the full cost of obtaining a college education, including expenses beyond tuition.

If the court approves the parties’ settlement agreement, those eligible for payment are: Division I men’s/women’s basketball and FBS football players, who competed from 2009 through this year—and who didn’t receive a cost-of-attendance stipend. Lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Steve Berman, stated that “[t]his settlement will help cover athletes who didn’t receive stipends as each member of the class is expect to receive approximately $6,000 as part of the settlement.

Even though the NCAA has agreed to settle the former players’ claims, it also stated that it “will continue to vigorously oppose the remaining portion of the lawsuit seeking pay for play.” So, while this may be a historic settlement for student-athletes, there is more to come as the second part of the case seeks injunctive relief that will force the NCAA to pay student-athletes a fair share of their play.

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