NCAA Faces Antitrust Class Action By College Athlete

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Santa Clara, CA: A proposed class action lawsuit alleging unfair non-compete terms has been filed by a former Northwestern University basketball player against the university and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The lawsuit claims that rules requiring college athletes to wait a year to play after transferring schools violate antitrust laws.

Filed by Johnnie Vassar, the lawsuit asserts the NCAA rules that prevent athletes from playing certain sports immediately after transferring to another Division 1 school hampers the athletes’ ability to participate in the competitive market for their talents.

Vassar, recruited for Northwestern before the 2014 season, claims he accepted the offer to play as a point guard with a full scholarship. However the scholarship was withdrawn following a campaign by Northwestern’s coaches to get him to quit the team and free up his space for a new candidate.

According to the suit, Vassar pursued opportunities to transfer, but was told by the coaches at other schools that he was only welcome if he could play immediately. However, as he was bound by the NCAA rules, he lost his opportunity to go to the other schools.

“In a competitive market free of the NCAA’s and its members’ restraint, these athletes would be allowed to transfer without restriction, particularly where, as in this case, their current coach no longer wants their services and ‘runs them off,’” the complaint states.

The NCAA rule applies only to Division 1 baseball, basketball, football and hockey players. The organization claims it was designed to help athletes settle into their new academic environment.

According to the suit, those sports earn the most revenue for the NCAA, indicating the true economic motivations for the restrictions. The year the athletes are forced to sit out makes them less attractive to other schools, thereby limiting the athletes’ ability to compete for a better spot on a different team.

Further, Vassar claims that by preventing athletes from moving between teams, the NCAA can limit the recruiting expenditures for teams, lock in players at its most powerful conferences, and help coaches protect their playbooks.

The suit seeks to represent two putative classes: one consisting of all NCAA Division 1 basketball players who have been on a team between Nov. 10, 2012, and the present; and the other consisting of NCAA Division 1 basketball players who sought to transfer to another Division 1 program since November 10, 2012, but were declared ineligible to play for any amount of time.

Vassar is represented by Steve Berman, Elizabeth Fegan and Daniel Kurowski of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.

The case is Vassar v. National Collegiate Athletic Association et al., case number 1:16-cv-10590, in the U.S. District

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