NCAA balks at athletes' $1.3 billion antitrust lawsuit, calling it speculative

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four National Championship-Louisiana State vs Iowa
Apr 2, 2023; Dallas, TX, USA; A Wilson EVO NXT basketball with Title IX logo on the court during the NCAA Womens Basketball Final Four National Championship at American Airlines Center. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
  • Lawsuit claims NCAA wrongly profited from "name, image and likeness" of athletes
  • Class membership could top more than 14,500 current and former students

(Reuters) - The National Collegiate Athletic Association has asked a U.S. judge to block current and former student-athletes from suing as a class action in seeking more than $1.3 billion over the use of their names and images in televised broadcasts and other forums.

The NCAA, the governing organization for U.S. intercollegiate athletics, on Friday said in a filing in California federal court that the plaintiffs failed to meet certain legal thresholds to sustain a class action.

The NCAA also argued the plaintiffs' division of damages unlawfully favored male athletes over female ones.

In a statement, the NCAA said the plaintiffs' claims for "billions of dollars in damages" do not have "legal or factual support." The statement also said, "there is no basis for requesting over $1 billion dollars in damages for male student-athletes and just $50 million for women."

Attorneys for the student-athletes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Plaintiffs' lawyers for years have challenged rules that prohibited college athletes from receiving compensation. The NCAA loosened restrictions in 2021, letting players profit from their "name, image and likeness" through deals with companies and other third parties.

In the pending case, the NCAA is fighting to thwart any order that would require the organization to pay athletes from revenue sources, including television broadcasts. The NCAA's lawyers called the pursuit of damages from broadcasts "speculative and unsupported."

Class actions provide plaintiffs an avenue in court to pursue claims collectively rather than as individuals, imposing greater pressures on defendants.

Judges must approve class actions based on factors including the ability to identify class members, whether there's commonality in the claims and proof of damages.

The 2020 lawsuit filed in Oakland, California, challenges the NCAA's bar on broadcast-related compensation for "name, image and likeness." The complaint, brought by current and former athletes at Arizona State University, the University of Oregon and the University of Illinois, also alleged damages for the NCAA's prior complete bar on students' deals with third-party companies.

The plaintiffs' lawyers have asked the court to approve three classes seeking monetary damages: football and men's basketball; women's basketball; and an additional sports class.

An expert for the plaintiffs estimated that at a minimum more than 14,500 members make up the combined classes.

A hearing on class certification is scheduled for Sept. 21, and the trial is set to begin in January 2025.

The case is In re College Athlete NIL Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 4:20-cv-03919-CW.

For plaintiffs: Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro; and Jeffrey Kessler of Winston & Strawn

For NCAA: Beth Wilkinson and Rakesh Kilaru of Wilkinson Stekloff; and Jacob Danziger of ArentFox Schiff

Read more:

NCAA hit with antitrust lawsuit over student-athlete payments

Plaintiffs' lawyers in NCAA case pick up $3.5 mln more in fees

U.S. Supreme Court backs college athletes in NCAA compensation fight

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