Student-Athletes Challenging the NCAA’s ‘Grant-in-Aid’ Rules Seek to Continue Lawsuit By Distancing Themselves from O’Bannon

On May 31, 2016, student-athletes fighting NCAA bylaws which prevent compensation beyond the cost of attending college filed an opposition to the NCAA’s bid for judgement on the pleadings of their anti-trust claims. The key element of their opposition is that they are raising claims wholly different from the landmark O’Bannon v. NCAA case which had a momentous ruling in late 2015. By arguing that the issues are different from the O’Bannon case they stop the court from dismissing the case to prevent re-litigating the issues that they already ruled on in O’Bannon.

This opposition stems from a 2014 anti-trust challenge to the NCAA’s “Grant-in-Aid” rules which prohibit schools from paying student-athletes more than the cost of attending their respective institution. In December 2015, a California federal judge certified the class action suit creating three distinct classes of student athletes: those who participate in Division I Football, male Division I basketball players, and female Division I basketball players. So long as these student-athletes had received full scholarships before the litigation they were considered to be a part of the class action suit.

In their opposition filed to a California federal court, the student-athletes contend that O’Bannon is an anti-trust challenge to name, image, and likeness revenue rights, whereas their suit challenges the ceiling on compensation for student-athletes. Further, the student athletes in this case are seeking an injunction to prevent the supposed illegal restraints on compensation, different from the relief sought in the O’Bannon suit. Finally, they contend that the O’Bannon ruling has been out for months so if the similarity was so great between the two cases the NCAA should have raised their concerns right away. Instead, the student-athletes claim the NCAA is delaying the proceedings until the Supreme Court reviews O’Bannon.

The NCAA’s position is that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in O’Bannon already handled any and all compensation cap issues and that those same issues should not be re-litigated. Of note, although the O’Bannon decision shut down creating a deferred trust for student-athletes to receive upon leaving school it did leave open the chance that compensation for full cost of attendance, including living expenses, could be provided by universities.

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