By Abigail Funk
The NCAA recently settled a class action lawsuit filed by former student-athletes unhappy with the organization's scholarship cap bylaws. Reaction to the settlement, which is still tentative, is mixed.
In February 2006, three former student-athletes filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA. The suit claimed that although full scholarship athletes are supposed to have tuition, books, housing, and meals fully covered, an NCAA bylaw caps scholarships below the full cost of attending school in some instances, which forced the student-athletes to pay certain expenses out of pocket. Almost exactly two years later, although it denies having broken any laws, the NCAA has tentatively settled the suit.
Stanford University football player Jason White, University of San Francisco basketball player Jovan Harris, and University of California, Los Angeles, football player Brian Polak (and later a fourth plaintiff, University of Texas at El Paso basketball player Chris Craig) represented over 12,000 Division I football and men’s basketball players in filing the antitrust lawsuit. A recent NCAA study may in fact have helped the plaintiffs in their effort, as it estimated that full scholarship Division I football and men’s basketball players each pay approximately $2,500 in out-of-pocket expenses per year. The plaintiffs originally stated they were seeking that difference for all players represented from 2002 to 2007.
There are several parts of the settlement:
• The NCAA will create a $10 million fund for the former athletes’ educational expenses, which includes reimbursement for career development expenses, and undergraduate, graduate, or certificate education. The 12,000 former student-athletes represented by the suit have three years to file claim to this money—as much as $2,500 a year for up to three years.
• The NCAA has also agreed to “ease access” or “expand the criteria it uses to award money” to $218 million in existing funding for current athletes. Right now, this funding is in the form of three funds: the Academic Enhancement Fund, the Special Assistance Fund, and the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund. Athletes can apply for the funding under new, more lenient guidelines.
• The NCAA will also permit Division I schools to provide year-round comprehensive health insurance to its student-athletes if they so choose. As of now, the NCAA does not allow schools to provide year-round coverage that includes injuries stemming from participation in sports.
• The NCAA has agreed to look into allocating scholarships for multiple years, not just one year at a time.
While at first glance, $10 million and $218 million may sound like a lot of money, and the athletes’ lawyer says the plaintiffs were “pleased” with the proposed settlement, many college sports and legal experts say the NCAA got a good deal in the settlement.
Ellen Staurowsky, Professor of Sports Management and Media at Ithaca College, told the Los Angeles Times that the former athletes seem to have “gotten very little out of this settlement in reality … In the absence of knowing how this would be financially sustained over time, I’m not sure if the athletes’ concerns are being addressed long-term.”
The National College Players Association (NCPA) was a consultant to the athletes’ lawsuit, but has since quit out of unhappiness with the outcome. Ramogi Huma, President of the NCPA, told Inside Higher Ed that the settlement in fact shortchanges many athletes:
“The settlement does not require the NCAA to disclose how much money goes to the schools and how they spend it, so we’ll never know if one dime got to the athletes,” Huma said.
The settlement is tentative and a judge and both sides will review it before the agreement becomes final. Jason White et al v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 06-999, U.S. District Court, Central District of California can be found here.
Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management.