Attorneys filed a lawsuit against the NCAA in federal court Monday that seeks to prevent the association from limiting the amount of money athletes can make off their names, images and likenesses.
The antitrust lawsuit by attorneys representing two current college athletes also seeks damages for potential past earnings athletes have been denied by current NCAA rules. Arizona State swimmer Grant House and Oregon women’s basketball player Sedona Prince are the plaintiffs.
They are suing the NCAA and the Power Five Conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference — for unspecified damages. The suit seeks class-action status.
The latest legal challenge comes as the NCAA is the process of changing its rules to allow college athletes to earn money from third parties for things such as social media endorsements, sponsorship deals and personal appearances. The NCAA is also seeking help from Congress in the form of a federal law regarding name, image and likeness compensation that would superseded legislation being pushed at the state level.
Florida’s governor signed an NIL bill into law last week that would go into effect July 2021.
The lawsuit makes the case that by changing course on name, image and likeness compensation, the NCAA is contradicting its previous defense of the collegiate model.
“This is the needle that NCAA has had to thread,” said Gave Feldman, director of the Tulane sports law program. “The NCAA has argued that any payment to college athletes needs to be tethered to education or incidental to athletic participation. Anything that is not tethered to education or is not incidental to athletic participation will destroy amateurism or destroy college sports.
“The plaintiffs are now arguing that compensation for name, image and likeness is not tethered to education and is not incidental to participation and therefore destroys the NCAA”s own definition of amateurism and erases the line between college and pro.”
Feldman noted the lawsuit is can be used by the NCAA to show lawmakers why it needs federal protection.
“What incentive will that ever provide the NCAA to give athletes economic rights if it’s used to prove that every other restriction they have is illegal?” Feldman said.
The lead attorney in the latest case against the NCAA — Steve Berman from Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro — is a familiar legal foe for the association. His firm has won two antitrust lawsuits against the NCAA in the past decade: The Ed O’Bannon case that challenged the NCAA’s use of athletes’ names, images and likenesses, and the so-called Alston case that accused the NCAA and major conferences of illegally capping compensation to athletes.
“NCAA coaches take home multimillion-dollar salaries. Billion-dollar television deals are made, extravagant facilities are built, and commercial sponsorships churn in more revenue for the NCAA,” Berman said. “The college sports industry has been immensely profitable for every party involved except the players themselves — the very ones who make the business of college sports possible and fill seats and build cult followings of fans.
“For too long, the NCAA’s bylaws, constitution and rules have governed all aspects of college sports, and we think these outdated and unnecessary regulations are unlawfully keeping college athletes from compensation that is rightfully theirs."