Current College Sports Legal Challenges

Last Updated on March 21, 2024

Co-Authored by: Kristi Dosh & Nick Messineo

There are a myriad of legal challenges against the NCAA and its member institutions right now that it can be difficult to keep track. Many of these cases has the potential to alter the landscape of college athletics, so we’re breaking down the cases we’re watching below.

We will be updating this page as more information or rulings become available.

NIL Cases

Tennessee and Virginia v. NCAA (NIL)

Date Filed: January 31, 2024

Court: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee

Cause of Action: Section 1 of the Sherman Act, Anti-Trust Litigation

Plaintiff(s): State Of Tennessee and Commonwealth Of Virginia

Defendant(s): NCAA

Summary:

  • The Attorney Generals of Tennessee and Virginia initiated a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, contesting the legality of the association’s NIL guidelines. The lawsuit claims that the NCAA has breached antitrust laws by restricting athletes from fully earning NIL compensation.
  • The complaint states that the NCAA guidelines “allow current athletes to pursue NIL compensation, but they ban prospective college athletes (including current college athletes looking to transfer to another school who are in the ‘transfer portal’) from discussing potential NIL opportunities before they actually enroll.” Plaintiffs requested a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and preliminary and permanent injunctions, aimed at halting the NCAA from enforcing the NIL recruiting ban.
  • On February 13, 2024, both sides made their arguments regarding the preliminary injunction that would suspend the NCAA from implementing its NIL rules. The states reiterated their argument that prohibiting college athletes from having an NIL offer in hand before deciding which school to attend suppresses their value because they are not able to compare bids, and once they’ve signed with a school the athletes have lost nearly all of their leverage.

Latest Action: February 23, 2024: Judge Corker issued a preliminary injunction barring the NCAA from enforcing any rules that would prohibit college athletes or recruits from negotiating with collectives or boosters for NIL deals prior to their commitment to a university. The order also specifically prohibits the NCAA from enforcing its Rule of Restitution, which would have allowed the NCAA to retroactively impose punishment on those breaking the rules if the injunction is later vacated. 

Decision(s): Hasn’t yet gone to trial

House, et al v. NCAA, et al (NIL)

Date Filed: June 15, 2020

Court: US District Court for the Northern District of California

Cause of Action: 15 U.S.C. § 1 Antitrust Litigation

Plaintiff(s): Grant House (Arizona State swimmer), Sedona Prince (TCU women’s basketball player), and Tymir Oliver (former Illinois football player)

Defendant(s): The Big Ten Conference, Inc., The Big Twelve Conference, Inc., National Collegiate Athletic Association, Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12 Conference and Southeastern Conference

Summary:

  • Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against Defendants seeking back pay for lost NIL revenue, including (1) lost broadcast revenues; (2) lost video game revenues; and (3) lost revenues from third-party NIL agreements that commenced following the NCAA’s rule modification on July 1, 2021, and would have started as early as June 15, 2016, had it not been for Defendants’ previous NIL prohibitions.
  • The Plaintiff’s argument centers on Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act (15 U.S.C. § 1), alleging collusion among the Defendants to restrict college athletes’ NIL earnings.
  • With class-action status, the NCAA could be forced to pay more than $4 billion in damages.

Latest Action: On Nov. 3, 2023, class-action status was granted to Plaintiffs in damages portion of the case, which could make 14,000 current and former college athletes eligible to claim damages.

Decision(s): Hasn’t yet gone to trial

Labor & Employment Cases

Johnson, et al v. NCAA, et al (employment)

Date Filed: November 6, 2019

Court: U.S. Eastern District Court for Pennsylvania → Third Circuit Court of Appeals

Cause of Action: Fair Labor Standards Act

Plaintiff(s): Ralph Trey Johnson, Claudia Ruiz, Jacob Willebeek-Lemair, Alexa Cooke, individually and on behalf of all persons similarly situated athletes, Stephanie Kerkeles, Rhesa Foster, Esteban Suarez, Zachary Harris, Laura Hamilton, Matthew Schmidt, Liam Walsh, Gina Snyder and Tamara Schoen

Defendant(s): NCAA, twenty universities that are members of the NCAA Division I, and a putative Defendant class including125 NCAA D1 schools

Summary:

  • Plaintiffs assert that they are employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act and should be paid for their time spent as D1 athletes.
  • The complaint alleged that Defendants violated the FLSA, Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, the New York Labor Law, and the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act, and also asserted claims for unjust enrichment.
  • The District Court sent the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on interlocutory appeal to decide the sole issue of whether athletes are employees as a matter of law.
  • Arguments were heard on February 15, 2023 by a third-judge panel in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Third Circuit rules in favor of the athletes, then the NCAA can appeal that decision to the Supreme Court; otherwise, the case will be returned to the district court to evaluate the merits of the claim and decide whether the NCAA actually violated the FLSA.

Latest Action: Arguments heard by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on February 15, 2023.

Decision(s): Pending

Trustees of Dartmouth College and Service Employees International Union, Local 560 (employment)

Date Filed: September 13, 2023

Agency: National Labor Relations Board, Region 1 (Boston)

Cause of Action: National Labor Relations Act

Petitioner: Service Employees International Union, Local 560; Dartmouth College’s men’s basketball team (all 15 players)

Opposing Party: Dartmouth College

Summary:

  • The Service Employees International Union Local 560 (SEIU) – the union that represents some of Dartmouth’s staff – submitted a petition with the NLRB (Region 1), seeking to hold a representation election to establish a bargaining unit for the 15 players on Dartmouth’s men’s basketball team.
  • Dartmouth College opposed the petition and argued that the basketball players are not “employees” pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act.
  • On February 5, 2024, the Regional Director for Region 1 ruled that the players on the Dartmouth men’s basketball team are employees under the NLRA and ordered a union election for the players. In the decision, the regional director emphasizes the degree of control that the college exercises over the players on the team: “Because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, and the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, I find that the petitioned-for basketball players are employees within the meaning of the [National Labor Relations] Act.”
  • Dartmouth moved to stay the election, but the NLRB did not grant the stay (with one member dissenting). On March 5, 2024, the Dartmouth players voted 13-2 to join Service Employees International Union Local 560.
  • Dartmouth is expected to appeal to the full NLRB.

Latest Action: March 5, 2024 – The Dartmouth players voted 13-2 to join Service Employees International Union Local 560.

Decision(s): February 5, 2024 – NLRB (Region 1) ruled in favor of Dartmouth’s basketball players, classifying them as employees under the NLRA and ordering a union election. Dartmouth is expected to appeal to the full NLRB.

University of Southern California; Pac-12 Conference; National Collegiate Athletics Association (employment)

Date Filed: February 8, 2022

Agency: National Labor Relations Board, Region 31 (Los Angeles)

Cause of Action: National Labor Relations Act

Charging Party: National College Players Association (NCPA)

Respondents: University of Southern California, Pac-12 Conference, and the NCAA

Summary:

  • The NCPA filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against USC, the Pac-12 Conference, and the NCAA, seeking to recognize the employment status of Division I FBS football players and Division I men’s and women’s basketball players under the National Labor Relations Act.
  • In both the original complaint in May 2023 and the amended complaint in September 2023, the NCPA alleges that USC, the Pac-12, and the NCAA are joint employers of the Players (on February 23, 2024 a federal judge stayed the NLRB’s new joint employer rule until March 11, 2024, applying it only to cases filed after the rule becomes effective). By making this argument, the Players are seeking to ensure that this ruling would apply to athletes at both private and public schools.
  • A key argument by the NCPA is the level of control exercised by the NCAA and USC over the athletes’ working conditions.
  • An administrative law judge’s ruling in this case can be appealed to the full National Labor Relations Board, and a decision by the board can be further appealed in federal court.

Latest Action: February 23, 2024: Order issued granting the General Counsel’s motion to amend the complaint (to add media rules applicable to the football team).

Decision(s): Hasn’t yet been heard

Alston Award Case

Hubbard, et al v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al (Alston awards)

Date Filed: April 4, 2023

Court: US District Court for the Northern District of California

Cause of Action: 15 U.S.C. § 1 Antitrust Litigation

Plaintiff(s): Chuba Hubbard (former Oklahoma State University football player) and Keira McCarrell (former University of Oregon and Auburn University track and field athlete)

Defendant(s): National Collegiate Athletic Association, Atlantic Coast Conference, The Big Ten Conference, Inc., The Big 12 Conference, Inc., Pac-12 Conference and Southeastern Conference

Summary:

  • Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against Defendants seeking damages for previously being denied Academic Achievement Awards, also referred to as “Alston awards.” The Supreme Court’s ruling in NCAA v. Alston on June 21, 2021, paved the way for colleges to directly compensate athletes with Academic Achievement Awards, which includes a broad range of “academic or graduation awards or incentives” up to $5,980 each academic year.
  • Plaintiffs seek to have their case certified as a class action representing both current and former Division I athletes who (1) played between April 1, 2019 and the date that the class action gets certified; and (2) who would have fulfilled their college’s criteria for receiving Alston awards.
  • The Plaintiffs allege that Defendants unlawfully deprived the Plaintiffs, and members referred to in the Class, of Alston awards, which amounts to unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. § 1).

Latest Action: Trial is set tentatively for December 2024

Decision(s): Hasn’t yet gone to trial

Antitrust Case

Carter v. NCAA

Date Filed: December 7, 2023

Court: US District Court for the Northern District of California

Cause of Action: 15 U.S.C. § 1 Antitrust Litigation

Plaintiffs: DeWayne Carter, Nya Harrison and Sedona Prince

Defendants: National Collegiate Athletic Association, Atlantic Coast Conference, The Big Ten Conference, Inc., The Big 12 Conference, Inc., Southeastern Conference and Pac-12 Conference

Summary:

  • This case goes back to the original argument in Alston v. NCAA that the NCAA, conferences and institutions depress the market for college athletes by limiting their compensation to tuition, room and board and related expenses and that the value is based on each individual athlete’s market value.
  • The Plaintiffs argue that money spent on facilities, coaches, etc. for recruiting purposes could be spent direct on the athletes if not for NCAA rules restricting the market.
  • In Alston, Judge Claudia Wilken reduced the case down to only dealing with education-related benefits, so the Plaintiffs here are trying again to attack the other restrictions.
  • The complaint takes into account Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion from Alston and comments from NCAA president Charlie Baker and Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh to make the argument amateurism is not only dead but also restrictive in a way that is clearly against antitrust laws.
  • Plaintiffs will be seeking a class action in this case.

Latest Action: Complaint filed December 7, 2023

Decision: Hasn’t yet gone to trial

Title IX Case (with NIL)

Schroeder, et al v. University of Oregon (Title IX)

Date Filed: December 1, 2023

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon

Cause of Action: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C.§1681

Plaintiff(s): Varsity female college athletes at the University of Oregon: Ashley Schroeder, Kendall Clark, Halli Fields, Natasha George, Josie Griffiths, Jade Bernal, Dahlia Mcallister, Presley Mccaskill, Abigail Plevin, Valerie Peterson, Ella Tyus, Siulolovao Folau, Alex Laita, Batia Rotshtein, Zoe Almanza, Beatrice Wetton, Mia Lopez, Delaney Hopen, Carly Wallace, Savannah Siegrist, Anastasia Lima, Madelyn Lafollette, Alexandra Haden, Josie Cole, Alaina Thomas, Vivian Donovan, Elise Haverland, River Ribeiro, Sophia Schmitz, Sydney Weddle, Claire Daley And Anna Maria Knight, Individually and on behalf of all those similarly situated

Defendant(s): University of Oregon

Summary:

  • Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against Defendant alleging violation of Title IX due to disparate treatment with regards to participation in intercollegiate sports and NIL.
  • The 115-page complaint alleges numerous discrepancies between the experience at the university by members of men’s athletic teams and women’s athletic teams. These contrasts include differences in equipment, travel allowances, coaching, facilities, academic tutoring, recruiting, and many more. Plaintiffs allege that the “most egregious” example of unequal treatment is the treatment and benefits offered to members of the men’s football team as compared to female student-athletes at the university.
  • While Division Street – an NIL collective – is not a named defendant in the lawsuit and Plaintiffs do not state the precise nature of the relationship between the university and the collective, Plaintiffs allege that the collective is affiliated with the university and that the operating relationship between the school and the entity violates Title IX.
  • Plaintiffs argue that the university “provides its male and female student-athletes with a wide array of publicity and other treatments and benefits to increase their NIL-related training, opportunities, and income, both directly and by working with and through its NIL collective, Division Street . . . and Opendorse, the Oregon Ducks NIL Marketplace.”

Latest Action: Complaint filed by Plaintiffs on December 1, 2023.

Decision(s): Hasn’t yet gone to trial

ACC Lawsuits

Atlantic Coast Conference v. Board of Trustees of Florida State University

Date Filed: December 21, 2023

Court: General Court of Justice, Superior Court Division, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina

Cause of Action: Declaratory Judgment

Plaintiff: Atlantic Coast Conference

Defendant: Board of Trustees of Florida State University

Summary:

  • The ACC is seeking a declaratory judgment stating that the grant of rights is enforceable against FSU and that FSU is prevented from challenging the validity of the grant of rights.

Latest Action: None yet

Decision(s): None yet

Florida State University Board of Trustees v. Atlantic Coast Conference

Date Filed: December 22, 2024

Court: Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit, Leon County, Florida

Cause of Action: Declaratory Judgment

Plaintiff: Florida State University Board of Trustees

Defendant: Atlantic Coast Conference

Summary:

  • Florida State seeks a judgment that the ACC’s exit fee, grant of rights and other punishments are unenforceable under Florida law as unreasonable restraints of trade, as well as other reasons detailed in the Complaint.
  • Additionally, Florida State argues the ACC punishments are unenforceable penalties that are disproportionate to the damages the ACC would incur if FSU withdrew and not enforceable penalties under Florida law. FSU also claims the ACC punishments violate Florida public policy and are unconscionable.
  • Florida State also claims the ACC breached its contract with FSU for a number of reasons, including: failing to secure media rights deals for adequate amounts, failure to achieve “responsible fiscal management,” mishandling the nine-year option in the ESPN contract, undertaking the “ill-conceived expansion” of the ACC to include Stanford, Cal and SMU, and diminishing the members’ ability to compete in championships.
  • Florida State further claims the ACC breached its fiduciary duties to Florida State, including not securing, protecting and exploiting the media rights and failing to protect the position of FSU as its undefeated conference champion.

Latest Action: None yet

Decision(s): None yet

Clemson University v. Atlantic Coast Conference

Date Filed: March 19, 2024

Court: Court of Common Pleas, Pickens County, South Carolina

Cause of Action: Declaratory Judgment

Plaintiff: Clemson University

Defendant: Atlantic Coast Conference

Summary:

  • Clemson is seeking a declaratory judgment with respect to its media rights, withdrawal penalties and fiduciary duties that those clauses are erroneous and hinder Clemson’s right to explore other conference membership options.
  • Clemson is arguing that the media rights granted to the ACC should be limited to games played while it is a member of the ACC and that the conference has no media rights as to Clemson’s games after any exit from the conference.
  • Clemson also is arguing that the exit fee (in excess of $140 million) is “unconscionable, unenforceable, and in violation of public policy.”
  • Lastly, Clemson argues it does not owe fiduciary duties to the ACC under the ACC Constitution or ACC Bylaws.

Latest Action: None yet

Decision(s): None yet

Atlantic Coast Conference v. Clemson University

Date Filed: March 20, 2024

Court: General Court of Justice, Superior Court Division, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina

Cause of Action: Declaratory Judgment

Plaintiff: Atlantic Coast Conference

Defendant: Clemson University

Summary:

  • The ACC seeks a declaratory judgment that its Grant of Rights and Amended Grant of Rights are valid and enforceable contracts.
  • The ACC also seeks a judgment that Clemson has waived its right to challenge the Grant of Rights and Amended Grant of Rights by accepting benefits under the contracts already.
  • Additionally, the ACC seeks a declaratory judgment that its withdrawal payment is valid and enforceable should Clemson leave the conference.
  • The ACC also accuses Clemson of breaching its promises in the Grant of Rights and Amended Grant of Rights by filing its complaint in the South Carolina courts.
  • In the fifth request for relief is a request for a declaratory judgment that Clemson owes a fiduciary duty to the ACC “to act in ways that advance the common and joint venture’s goals and not act in ways that undermine or frustrate those goals.”
  • In addition, the ACC claims Clemson has breached its obligation of good faith and fair dealing under the ACC Constitution and Bylaws.

Latest Action: None yet

Decision(s): None yet

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