Northwestern Bricks its Shot for Motion to Strike in Johnnie Vassar Suit

On Friday, September 29, 2017, an Illinois federal judge denied the motion Northwestern University (NU) had filed at the end of January to strike portions of a former basketball player’s complaint that mentioned settlement negotiations. “Clearly, the purpose of this allegation is not to show liability by referencing a settlement agreement but rather to allege Northwestern’s bad act in making a misrepresentation to Vassar,” the judge’s order stated.  The complaint alleged that NU offered a “cash payment” to “make Johnnie go away and free-up his scholarship.” In their motion, NU invoked Federal Rule of Evidence 408, but the judge noted the rule did not apply because the settlement communications were not regarding the claims at issue in the litigation.

Former NU men’s basketball player Johnnie Vassar had filed the class-action lawsuit against NU and the NCAA in November 2016. The suit alleged the University’s removal of Vassar’s four-year athletic scholarship in May 2016 was a breach of contract and that the school used intimidation tactics to force him out after his freshman season. He also contended that the school falsified his timecards when, after being removed from the team, Vassar was placed in an “internship program” that consisted of eight hours per week of janitorial and maintenance service. In addition, Vassar claims that the NCAA rule that undergraduate student-athletes that transfer to a new school must sit out one year is a violation of antitrust law.

Northwestern also moved to dismiss the suit, claiming the scholarship was not a contract, and that in any case, NU had allowed Vassar to keep the scholarship as long as he worked part time for the athletic department. Regarding the claim against the NCAA’s transfer rule, the NCAA had moved to dismiss the suit as well on the grounds that the rule is procompetitive, not commercial, and not subject to antitrust laws.

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