Brief filed in NCAA scholarship appeal

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Two former college athletes who lost their scholarships because of injuries are now arguing to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that they would have received multi-year athletic scholarships covering the costs of their bachelor’s degrees if it wasn’t for the “anti-competitive” National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I bylaws.

Joseph Agnew and Patrick Courtney, the plaintiffs in a suit that U.S. Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson dismissed in September in favor of the NCAA, filed a brief in the federal appellate court earlier this week. They argue that the Southern District of Indiana judge wrongly dismissed their case because a 1992 case doesn’t control the fate of this suit in deciding whether those pursuing a bachelor’s degree constitute a “discernable labor market” in college sports.

Originally filed in the Northern District of California, the suit ended up in Indiana at the request of the Indianapolis-based NCAA. The plaintiffs are challenging two bylaws – a one-year scholarship limit, which prohibits NCAA-member institutions from offering multi-year athletic-based discounts to student-athletes; and the cap on the number of athletic-based discounts a school can offer per sport each year. They claim that without those two bylaws, they would have been able to get multi-year athletic scholarships that would have covered the cost of their degrees.

The NCAA’s motion to dismiss argued that the two didn’t allege a relevant product market, geographic market or anti-competitive effect on a relevant market to survive the motion to dismiss. The organization also claimed the plaintiffs lacked antitrust standing to challenge the bylaws.

Mangus-Stinson, bound by Banks v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 977 F.2d 1081, 1087-88 (7th Cir. 1992), examined the suit under the “Rule of Reason” analysis. She declined to apply the “quick look” version of the rule as the plaintiffs argued, and found that the plaintiffs failed to plead a relevant product market for the bachelor’s degrees as a matter of law.

But in the new brief, Agnew and Courtney contend that the Indianapolis judge incorrectly relied on Banks and instead should have considered other precedent from the Supreme Court of the United States and other federal courts. Specifically, that the NCAA student athletes purchase their degrees with their labor – such as playing a sport – and so without that option they have no other ability to obtain those degrees. That fits the “discernible labor market” definition, the brief says.

The plaintiffs are requesting oral argument on the case, and the NCAA has until Nov. 22 to file its response brief before the court makes a decision.


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