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Former West Virginia Running Back Seeks To Block “Fixed” NCAA Scholarships

Posted  March 17, 2014

By David Scupp

Shawne Alston, a former running back at West Virginia University, has filed an antitrust class action alleging the fixing of scholarship amounts by the NCAA and its five football “Power Conferences” – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC conferences.

Alston claims that the NCAA and these Power Conferences conspired to fix the amounts of athletic scholarships, formally known as the grant-in-aid (“GIA”), at a level below a student’s true cost of attending college.  Alston alleges that GIA shortfall is often several thousands of dollars.  The result, Alston alleges, is that “players cannot even make ends meet while the schools make tens of millions.”

Alston notes that although the NCAA’s Board of Governors recently approved a proposal to allow stipends to cover the gap between the GIA and the true cost of attendance, the NCAA’s members shot it down.  Their rationale, claims Alston, was an anticompetitive desire to control costs.

The Alston case is essentially the continuation of a class action brought in 2006 by former Stanford University football player Jason White and others, claiming that the NCAA illegally fixed the GIA at a level below the true cost of attendance.  The White case settled in 2008.  The settlement’s principal relief went to Division I-A football and men’s basketball players that received a GIA during the academic years 2007-08 through 2012-13, to whom the NCAA made available a total of $10 million (and expanded the use of an existing $218 million fund) to reimburse these athletes’ out-of-pocket educational expenses.  With the passing of the 2012-13 academic year, and the NCAA’s members unwilling to adopt a rule permitting schools to cover an athlete’s true cost of attendance, the door was wide open for college athletes to continue the fight for their rights in court.

Alston presents an interesting contrast to the pending In re Student Athlete Name and Likeness Licensing class action.  In that case, former players are challenging the NCAA’s rules, enacted in the name of “amateurism,” that prevent players from earning compensation from the licensing of their name and likeness rights.

Although the plaintiffs in both cases are seeking to eliminate certain NCAA limitations on athlete compensation, success in the Alston case does not depend on debunking the NCAA’s “amateurism” justification.  This is because under the NCAA’s own rules, a college athlete can accept a GIA worth tens of thousands of dollars, yet still be considered an uncompensated “amateur.”  Alston can therefore challenge the GIA’s failure to cover certain educational expenses, without challenging the validity of the “amateurism” principle itself.  Indeed, when the NCAA’s members rejected the proposal to increase the GIA to cover an athlete’s cost of attendance, it allegedly did so out of a desire to control costs, not to preserve “amateurism.”

Alston’s case is one that can, and probably should, be won.  It is hard to imagine a pro-competitive justification for the NCAA’s current limitations on the amount of the GIA.  But, for those that believe the NCAA’s principle of “amateurism” is little more than a pretext to deny college athletes their fair share of the billions of dollars of revenue reaped by the NCAA and its member schools, Alston will likely not bring about the changes they seek.

Edited by Gary J. Malone


Tagged in: Antitrust Litigation,