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Monday, April 21, 2014
Why aren't the Mid-American Conference, Conference USA & Mountain West Conference being sued over Grants-in-Aid? Some Answers

In the last two months, several current and former college athletes have sued the NCAA, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big-12, SEC and the ACC over the value of athletic scholarships.

The first one to do so was former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston. Alston alleges that the NCAA, its member institutions, and the five major conferences are in violation of antitrust law by capping athletic scholarships (grants-in-aid) to the cost of tuition, room and board, books and fees. Clemson corner back Martin Jenkins and three other current players have raised the same basic argument in their own lawsuit.  If these players succeed, college athletes could receive more value--perhaps dramatically more value--in their scholarships.

One mystery to me and I know to several other sports attorneys is why these players and their attorneys did not also sue the Mid-American Conference, Conference USA and Mountain West Conference.  There is no obvious reason why these conferences and possibly other conferences weren't also named as defendants. 

I posed this issue to Jon King, who is one of Alston's lead attorneys. King, an attorney at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, kindly answered.  There are several reasons, as his email details:
Hi Mike,

Speaking for the Alston case, a mix of reasons (which I'd imagine are the same in the other case), including these:

1) The 5 Power Conferences are among those that have disproportionate representation on the NCAA Division I Executive Committee, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, the NCAA Division I Leadership Council, and the NCAA Division I Legislative Council. They thus have an increased ability to initiate, maintain, and change NCAA rules as compared to members of the other conferences.

2) They comprised 5 of the 6 BCS AQ conferences going back to the start of the class period in 2010.

3) Their Conference Commissioners have been the most outspoken during the class period in terms of stating publicly that they would pay the full stipend to players (meaning, the difference between the value of the athletics grant-in-aid vs. the actual cost of attendance) if permitted. These statements will assist in minimizing potential barriers to the certification of a damages class, and limit the defendants' ability to argue that individual issues on damages predominate.

4) The new NCAA legislative proposal afoot makes a clear distinctions between the 5 Power Conferences and all others in terms of potentially giving them autonomy, thus recognizing a distinction between them and others, no doubt in terms of revenue generated and other commercial factors. For example, see this article.

Finally, I note that cases often evolve, and defendants often wind up being added to a case as it proceeds (and also can be dropped if appropriate). For the reasons stated above, we thought it make the most sense to proceed as we did.

I hope this is helpful!

Best Regards,

Jon T. King | Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP | Direct: (510) 725-3034 


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