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NCAA's strongest argument might be cap limit

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The NCAA's best argument against the Ed O'Bannon ruling may be the financial limits imposed by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken — the same ones the NCAA lauded in her decision.

Less than two weeks after the court decision opened the door for college athletes to receive a small portion of the millions of dollars they help generate, several attorneys told The Associated Press they believe the NCAA should now attack that cap. Wilken ruled Aug. 8 that the NCAA violated antitrust law by restricting schools from providing money beyond current scholarship limits to athletes.

She said schools should be allowed to put up to $5,000 per year of competition into a trust fund for football players and men's basketball players, money that could be collected once they are finished with school.

Legal experts question how she reached that number and wonder whether it will hold up on appeal.

"The cap is inconsistent with a judicial decision that the restraint (of trade) is unreasonable," said Robert McTamaney, an antitrust lawyer with the firm of Carter, Ledyard & Milburn. "If the restraint is unreasonable out it goes, there's no partial remedy under the Sherman Act and, frankly, judges aren't supposed to construct one. Either it's good or it's not."

Within an hour of the ruling, NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy issued a statement noting that the governing body disagreed with the ruling but supported the cap. The NCAA, which faces a Wednesday deadline to appeal the decision, declined to comment Monday.

Wilken said she set the $5,000 annual threshold to balance the NCAA's fears about huge payments to players.

"The number is immaterial, it's the concept," said Jim Ryan, an attorney at Cullen and Dykman. "It does seem rather arbitrary. Why isn't it $3,000 or $10,000? She pulled the $5,000 somewhat out of the air, so it could be $3,000, it could be $10,000, what's a few thousand?"

In October 2011, the NCAA Board of Directors approved a $2,000 annual stipend for athletes, legislation that was shelved when more than 125 schools signed on to an override measure. The five richest conferences are attempting to bring back the stipend now that they have been given autonomy over some of the trickiest issues in college sports.

McTamaney believes if the stipend were already in place and Wilken applied the same logic to the O'Bannon case, the NCAA might have already won in court.

Instead, the NCAA is headed back to a playing field where it has traditionally been successful.

According to a study released last month by Illinois professor Michael LeRoy, athletes suing the NCAA won 49 percent of the initial cases but the NCAA won 71 percent of the appeal in the second and third rounds.

This time, the governing body's lawyers face a vastly different obstacle. The appeal, promised by NCAA President Mark Emmert, will be heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court, a venue that has a reputation for siding with labor. Remy has repeatedly said the NCAA will take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

If the ruling stands, some worry it could ruin non-revenue sports and others believe the NCAA could face additional litigation from female athletes who could argue they are not being compensated equally in violation of Title IX laws.

Still, NCAA critics contend Wilken's decision didn't go far enough in compensating players for the merchandise and video games that have produced millions in revenue for the NCAA and its members but not for the athletes themselves. Joseph Farelli, an attorney with Pitta & Giblin who specializes in labor law, argues there should be no cap at all. He's not alone.

"I think how the court framed its injunction, exposed itself to some vulnerability," said Jeffrey Shinder, managing partner of Constantine Cannon and a self-described NCAA critic who declined to go into specifics because he didn't want to give the NCAA any advice.

Even NCAA supporters understand the rationale that if antitrust laws were broken, the players' options should not be limited.

But they're urging the NCAA attorneys to question Wilken's reasoning in setting the cap and continue to argue that college sports will be damaged if players are paid.

"I think the key to this case is whether these restraints are reasonable or not. I personally think that they are," McTamaney said. "If the athletes turn out to be compensated for their performances, the fan perception and alumni perception, I think, would be dramatically different. I think their support of the schools would decline significantly. And all of that sort of comes full circle, because if the restraints are substantial to keeping the fiction of the student-athlete, then they are reasonable."

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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