UNC Tennis Star Challenges NCAA’s Prize Money Restrictions in Lawsuit

Last Updated on April 4, 2024

The NCAA’s amateurism regulations have been called into question yet again in another antitrust lawsuit filed against the organization.

On March 18, University of North Carolina tennis player Reese Brantmeier filed a complaint in a North Carolina federal district court challenging the association’s limitations on prize money. At the core of the complaint are the NCAA Bylaws that limit the prize money that athletes may receive in return for their participation in non-NCAA athletic competitions. 

Notably, the lawsuit cites Bylaw, among several other Bylaws, which limits the compensation that a tennis athlete may receive prior to enrolling in college full-time “to $10,000 per calendar year in prize money based on place finish or performance in athletics events.” Once the athlete receives $10,000 in prize money, the athlete is only permitted to accept additional prize money on a per-event basis, which cannot exceed the “actual and necessary expenses for participation in the event.” 

Brantmeier alleges that her economic injury resulted from the NCAA’s prize money restrictions, which she argues in her complaint are arbitrary, unlawful, and anti-competitive.

While still in high school, Brantmeier participated in the 2021 U.S. Open, thereafter receiving $49,109 in total prize money from the U.S. Tennis Association. In accordance with Bylaw, the NCAA forced Brantmeier to forfeit the majority of her earnings. However, after she enrolled at UNC for the 2022 fall season, Brantmeier was declined amateur status because the NCAA still disputed a portion of the prize money that she retained, refusing to classify certain sums of money as “actual and necessary expenses.” Only after she agreed to make a $5,100 donation to a charity did the NCAA deem her eligible for competition. 

Brantmeier’s lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of herself and other Division I athletes involved in “individual sports.” Moreover, the complaint demands an injunction that would prohibit the NCAA from enforcing its applicable Bylaws on prize money restrictions. 

The NCAA has upheld its prize money regulations primarily to protect the amateur status of college athletes. However, in the current model of college sports which allows for NIL compensation, the lawsuit points out that “[t]he NCAA does not have any coherent economic explanation for why certain categories of compensation are consistent with its concept of ‘amateurism,’ while others are not.” 

Brantmeier’s complaint alleges that the NCAA and its member schools and conferences engaged in a “group boycott” to limit compensation for college athletes and also conspired in “price fixing” to determine how much college athletes can earn – both of which violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. § 1).

This is just one of the several antitrust lawsuits currently facing the NCAA that could have a significant impact on the organization’s enforcement of amateurism moving forward.

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