Former NIU Punter Appeals Validity of Transfer Rule to the Seventh Circuit

Peter Deppe, a former punter for Northern Illinois University (NIU), has filed a notice of appeal that challenges an Indiana Federal Court’s dismissal of his antitrust claim regarding the NCAA rule forcing student-athletes who transfer universities to sit out for a year before returning to play for the new school.

As background, Deppe was originally recruited as a walk-on punter by NIU in 2014. Deppe’s complaint alleged that he was redshirted and told by the coaches that he would receive a scholarship and become the starting punter in 2015. However, Deppe’s scholarship never materialized, as the special teams coach switched universities.

Deppe was given permission to seek a transfer. The University of Iowa told Deppe that it wanted him, but conditioned this offer on his ability to obtain eligibility for the upcoming year. This proved to be an obstacle Deppe could not overcome, because of the NCAA rules alleged by his complaint.

Deppe’s suit maintained that the rule — which does not apply to non-student-athletes — blocked his opportunity to transfer to the University of Iowa, as his scholarship was conditioned on his immediate eligibility to play.

However, U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt did not take sympathy with Deppe, holding that the year-in-residence rule does not violate the Sherman Act, as it complements the NCAA’s mandate — promoting competition within amateur college sports programs. Judge Walton’s final judgment in the case set up Deppe’s appeal.

Notably, after this ruling, Deppe voluntarily dismissed the rest of his antitrust claims against the NCAA’s caps on the number of scholarship schools with Division I College Football can offer. Deppe maintained that this restriction artificially limited the available scholarships, and restricted trade, as schools are prevented from offering more in scholarship if they desire.

The appeal follows Judge Walton’s denial of Devin Pugh’s (former Weber State University Football player) attempt to bring a similar appeal on the same issue, brought in a similar lawsuit with the same attorneys. After dismissing Pugh’s challenges to both the year-in-residence transfer rule and scholarship caps, Judge Walton denied his request to enter a final judgment on the year-in-residence rule alone and/or for permission to file an interlocutory appeal, as both claims arose from the same set of facts.

Now, Deppe brings this challenge to the year-in-residence rule to the Seventh Circuit, but will this court — with a string of precedence giving great deference to the NCAA’s rules aimed at maintaining the amateur nature of college athletics — sympathize with Deppe?

If Deppe’s challenge is granted, universities will risk losing top players, mid-season, with no way to prevent those students from playing for, let’s say a competing school. However, if his appeal is denied/dismissed, college athletes will continue to be limited in their transfer abilities, and therefore, may be blocked from accepting better offers from universities offering them more money or better playing opportunities.

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