Judge Gives Final Approval of NCAA’s $209 Million Settlement

On November 17, 2017, California U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken announced she will grant the final approval to the $209 million settlement for student-athletes from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and 11 athletic conferences. The settlement includes a $41.7 million fee request for class counsel, which amounts to 20 percent of the settlement’s common fund.

The settlement partially resolves several lawsuits that were consolidated in 2014 in California’s Northern District. The lawsuit challenged the NCAA’s rules prohibiting universities from paying students more than a full grant-in-aid, which already covers the entire cost of attendance. However, the parties reached a settlement and requested court approval in February. The deal received opposition from Lamar Dawson, ex-University of Southern California linebacker, because the settlement would release state labor law claims, which were pending in his own suit. To continue with the settlement, the parties then agreed that the settlement would not release claims from lawsuits such as Dawson’s and the O’Bannon case, which are over player likenesses and other compensation. The revised deal also included the elimination of some qualifiers on how much aid was received to qualify as a class member. This revised settlement was preliminarily approved.

The student-athletes’ attorney stated on November 17, that the settlement notice had reached about 73 percent of the class. Further, out of the 53,000 class members, no one objected to the deal or opted out of it, the only objections concerned the requested attorneys’ fees. The attorney accounted the high approval due to the average payout being $6,000 per member, even including players that received full grant-in-aid. In response, Judge Wilken commended the settlement, stating it was an excellent settlement and had no problem approving it. Judge Wilken noted that the multiplier used to determine attorney fees was on the high side, but felt it was fair because the case was risky and the deal is excellent. However, Judge Wilken still asked both parties if there were any foreseeable problems in entering a partial final judgment. Particularly, the settlement does not resolve certain claims in litigation brought under the case Jenkins v. NCAA that seeks injunctive relief. Both sides stated they do not foresee any problems caused by the settlement for that unresolved litigation. In conclusion, Judge Wilken announced she would approve the settlement, which includes awarding the attorneys about $3.2 million in costs and expenses in addition to the $41.7 million for fees, and $20,000 to each of the four class representatives as an incentive award.

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