Minneapolis law firm sues NCAA, claiming it violates anti-trust laws

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 12, 2014 - 10:34 AM

A lawsuit filed in federal court is part of a larger national effort to win greater compensation from big-time programs.

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NCAA President Mark Emmert

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Minnesota lawyers joined the campaign to compensate college athletes with the filing of a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Big Ten Conference and other major conferences.

The suit, from a prominent Minneapolis law firm that specializes in class-action cases, says that universities, the NCAA and its conferences have reaped billions of dollars from student athletes in violation of federal antitrust law. It contends that college football is a full-time job, but athletic scholarships and other grants-in-aid fall far short of covering the full cost of attending school.

Brian Gudmundson and Charles Zimmerman, attorneys in the law firm of Zimmerman Reed, wrote that the student athletes are victims of “illegal price-fixing arrangements” in which any student who defies NCAA rules is forced out of athletics. They describe it as the equivalent of a nationwide illegal boycott and allege it constitutes a conspiracy.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Friday, asks to be certified as a class-action suit, and lists as its plaintiff Derek Thompson, a resident of Glen Rose, Texas, who was a member of the University of North Texas football team from 2009 to 2013. He received a full athletic scholarship.

The NCAA and Big Ten did not respond to requests for comment about the suit.

Gudmundson said in an interview Monday that he expects the suit to be consolidated in federal court in northern California, where similar allegations against the NCAA have been filed.

The NCAA defended its scholarship practices in an e-mail to the Star Tribune on Monday night.

“We have reviewed the [Zimmerman Reed] case and note its similarity to cases already filed challenging the athletics scholarship model,” wrote Stacey Osburn, the NCAA’s director of public and media relations. “Like those cases, we continue to believe the award of athletics scholarship is appropriate and lawful.”

Suit follows injunction

In a decision on Friday in Oakland, Calif., that could have major repercussions for college athletics, federal Judge Claudia Wilken issued an injunction against current NCAA rules that bar athletes from earning money from the use of their names and images in video games and broadcasts.

Responding to the decision, Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer, issued a statement on its website on Sunday, saying, “We remain confident that the NCAA has not violated the antitrust laws and intend to appeal.”

Gudmundson said in an interview that his lawsuit focuses on grants-in-aid, which are the full athletic scholarships. “There has been a conspiracy to fix the value of that at a certain level that does not reflect the competitive market,” he said.

“We think a change is long overdue,” he said. “I think the players should be allowed to participate in the market, in the revenue that they create.” He said the athletic scholarships “should reflect the value they bring to the respective institutions.”

Zimmerman Reed has represented athletes in other in other recent class-action lawsuits, including more than 400 clients in a concussion case against the National Football League. A settlement is pending in federal court. It also represents several hockey players in a National Hockey League concussion case, and several student athletes in an NCAA concussion case.

Last week, the NCAA voted to grant a significant degree of autonomy for setting athletes’ benefits to four high-profile conferences and the Big Ten, according to the New York Times. As a result of that vote, by next season the 65 schools in those conferences will likely offer their athletes a few thousand dollars more than current scholarships, the Times reported. ESPN said the Big Ten is one of the conferences.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224 Twitter: @randyfurst

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