Judge Preliminarily Approves NCAA’s $209 Million Antitrust Settlement

A U.S. District judge has granted preliminary approval for a $208.7 million settlement in the antitrust lawsuit between student-athletes and the NCAA/eleven athletic conferences. The approval came after revisions were added to exclude claims in other athletes’ suits and to modify class definitions.

As background, the student-athletes’ original complaint, filed in 2014, challenged the NCAA’s rules prohibiting universities from paying students a larger sum than a full grant-in-aid — which covers the up to the full cost of university attendance. Not only did the student-athletes sue the NCAA, but also eleven conferences: Pac-12, The Big Ten, The Big 12, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American Athletic, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and Western Athletic.

When the NCAA originally agreed to the proposed deal in February, it stated that it only obliged because the terms were consistent with financial aid rules, which allow student-athletes to obtain aid in an amount up to the full cost of obtaining a college education. However, the NCAA maintained that it would continue to vigorously oppose any remaining parts of the suit seeking pay for play.

Division I athletes who played either men’s or women’s basketball or bowl subdivision football, who received a full athletic grant-in-aid between March 5, 2010 and the closing of the class, are covered under the settlement.

While the parties originally agreed to the deal in February, legal hurdles required resolution of the conflicts stemming from the proposed agreement. Notably, Lamar Dawson, former University of Southern California linebacker, objected to the settlement on the grounds that it would release state labor law claims still pending in his own lawsuit.

Thus, the parties agreed to two stipulations regarding the settlement. First, the parties agreed that the settlement would not release Dawson’s claims, and claims like Dawson’s, such as the O’Bannon case, pending since 2009, over player likeness and other forms of compensation. Also, the second stipulation eliminated certain qualifiers regarding how much aid a student was required to have received before he or she could become a class member under the class’ definition. These stipulations were sufficient for Judge Claudia Wilken to give the court’s initial stamp of approval over the settlement.

Judge Wilken’s order stated that the “court does hereby preliminarily approve the settlement agreement, as amended by the parties’ stipulations filed on March 1, 2017, and March 21, 2017, subject to further consideration at the final fairness hearing.”

A statement released by the student-athletes’ attorney, Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, stated that the settlement would pay about $6,500 to qualifying players who played their college sport for four years.

Further, Berman’s statement noted that “[f]or years we’ve fought on behalf of tens of thousands of student-athletes who simply haven’t been given a fair shake. . . We are grateful to the court for preliminarily approving this monumental settlement that will bring real change to the way the NCAA treats Division I players, and grateful to the players themselves for stepping up to the plate.”

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