NCAA Sued Over College Football Player Scholarships Caps

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and five of college football’s regional conferences were sued by a former West Virginia University player who claims they conspired to limit the value of scholarships to less than the actual cost of attendance.

Shawne Alston, who played running back for West Virginia, filed the lawsuit today in federal court in San Francisco, saying he took out a $5,500 loan to make up the difference between what the school called a full scholarship -- limited to tuition, academic fees, room, board and books -- and what he had to pay.

Top-tier college football is a “highly competitive marketplace” in which the value of scholarships “would rise to at least cover the full cost of attendance, and likely much more,” but for the NCAA’s limits, according to the complaint, which says the caps violate antitrust law.

The suit follows efforts by college athletes to secure greater control over their working conditions and the use of their likenesses on television and in video games. A group of Northwestern University football players last month asked the National Labor Relations Board to recognize them as employees of the school, a step toward possible unionization.

Conferences Named

Alston is seeking to sue on behalf of all scholarship athletes from the past four years who played football in the Pacific 12, Big Ten, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Big Twelve conferences. He’s asking the court to void caps on financial aid and to award damages covering the gap between the cost of attendance and scholarship awards. Such damages could be tripled under antitrust law.

Stacey Osburn, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis-based NCAA, the governing body of major college sports, declined to comment on the lawsuit because she hadn’t reviewed the filing.

In October 2011, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved a rule allowing conferences to provide athletes a $2,000 stipend. They suspended the rule less than two months later after complaints from more than 100 schools. It’s still under discussion, Osburn said.

Herb Vincent, an associate commissioner for the Southeastern Conference, declined to comment on the suit, as did Erik Hardenbergh, vice president of public affairs for the Pacific 12 conference. Representatives for the other conferences didn’t return calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and Los Angeles-based Pearson, Simon & Warshaw LLP filed the lawsuit.

Earlier Case

Hagens Berman brought another scholarship case in 2010 against the NCAA, alleging that the organization’s limits on the number of football scholarships a Division I school can award each year, along with its now-defunct prohibition on multiyear scholarships, violate antitrust law.

A judge dismissed that complaint, rejecting the idea of a commercial market for college athlete labor. Hagens Berman revised its complaint to limit the market to football players in a lawsuit filed in 2012. A judge rejected a request by the NCAA to dismiss that case. Alston’s lawsuit narrows the scope even further, to five specific conferences within top-tier college football.

The case is Alston v. NCAA, 14-01011, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).