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Judge tosses suit against NCAA that reads ‘like a press release’

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A federal judge on Friday dismissed several former college athletes’ attempt to bring a class-action lawsuit against Indianapolis-based NCAA, writing in a 25-page order that the complaint “reads more like a press release than a legal filing.” The judge left open the possibility that an antitrust claim may survive.

Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued the ruling in John Rock, et al. v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 1:12-cv-1019-JMS-DKL. Rock contended the NCAA’s prohibition of four-year scholarships and limits on scholarships constituted illegal restraints of trade. The suit also alleged the NCAA constituted an illegal college sports monopoly.

Rock was a quarterback at Gardner-Webb University whose scholarship was not renewed after a change in coaches at the North Carolina school. Rock claims in the suit that he was assured a four-year scholarship as long as he remained eligible.

Other student athletes named in the suit are former college basketball and hockey players Tim Steward and Kody Collins. “Mr. Collins is dismissed from this action for failing to allege direct antitrust injury,” Magnus-Stinson wrote. “Although the court concludes that Mr. Rock and Mr. Steward have standing to pursue their claims, the Court grants the NCAA’s motion to dismiss.”

Magnus-Stinson dismissed with prejudice allegations regarding Division III prohibition on athletics-based financial aid but left open an avenue to a possible antitrust case for the same attorneys who filed Agnew v. NCAA, 1:11-CV-0293, which was dismissed by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2011.

“I am pleased that … the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted the NCAA motion to dismiss the Rock v. NCAA case involving the NCAA grant in aid rules,” NCAA general counsel Donald Remy said in a statement.

“Hopefully, after having both Agnew and now Rock dismissed, these same attorneys will find a more appropriate cause.”

Seattle-based Hagens Berman LLP brought the suit that was represented locally by Price Waicukauski & Riley LLC. A message seeking comment from Hagens Berman was not immediately returned.

Magnus-Stinson’s order opens with an observation that the NCAA’s bylaws at issue in Rock were the same as those contested in Agnew. “As the poignant refrain from a popular duet cover laments, here we go again,” the judge wrote.

“If counsel wants this claim to proceed, the moment has come to spend the time and undertake the potentially complicated task of the ‘proper identification’ of a relevant market,” she concluded in giving Rock 28 days to amend the antitrust complaint.

“Mr. Rock’s amended complaint should not make conclusory legal allegations or cite cases but, instead, should provide a short and plain statement detailing the necessary factual allegations supporting a plausible claim for relief. Failure to do so will result in the Court denying the motion to amend and closing this case.”

The Rock suit is one of several legal challenges the NCAA faces. In an Indiana Lawyer interview in November, Remy said he was confident that the suit, like Agnew, would be dismissed. “It was the same theory, the same principles, and I think we’ll see the same results,” Remy said.


 

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