Lawsuit: By unlawfully agreeing not to offer multiyear athletics-based discounts, the N.C.A.A. and its member institutions have ensured that student-athletes who are injured or who simply do not meet the school's expectations can be cut from a team and th
A former Rice University football player who lost his scholarship for his senior year has filed a class-action lawsuit against the N.C.A.A., arguing that the one-year limit on athletic scholarships amounts to a price-fixing scheme between the association and member universities.
“People look at the N.C.A.A. as kind of outside these laws, but they’re really not,” said Steve Berman, one of Agnew’s lawyers. “Here, they have entered into an agreement restraining the length of a scholarship that kids can get, and we think that’s anticompetitive and is harmful to student-athletes.”
Agnew was a highly recruited defensive back from Carroll, Tex., who enrolled at Rice in 2006 on a full scholarship, according to a copy of the complaint provided by Agnew’s lawyers.
Agnew played in all 13 of the team’s games his first season, but the head coach who recruited him, Todd Graham, left for the University of Tulsa before Agnew’s sophomore year. After losing playing time and battling injuries, Agnew was not offered a scholarship in his junior year. He appealed the decision and won, but he was denied a scholarship the next year. Agnew, who is pursuing a degree in sociology, is now required to pay his own tuition.
“He was a star athlete, and we believe that if the rule hadn’t been in place, he would have gotten multiple offers of full scholarships,” said Berman, who also represents Sam Keller, the former Arizona State and Nebraska quarterbackwho is suing the N.C.A.A. and EA Sports in a class-action lawsuit arguing that the use of college athletes’ likenesses in video games is illegal.
Bob Williams, a spokesman for the N.C.A.A., said in a statement that the N.C.A.A. was reviewing the lawsuit, but “it should be noted that the award of athletic scholarships on a one-year, renewable basis is the more typical approach taken within higher education for talent-based and academic scholarships in general.”
In May, responding to reports that the Justice Department was investigating its scholarship rule, the N.C.A.A. released a statement explaining that “an annual review of whether an individual meets the standards of a merit award is the most appropriate way to ensure that the most deserving student-athletes receive that award each year.”
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment on the reported inquiry.
The lawsuit, which refers to the scholarships as tuition “discounts,” describes the rule as a “blatant price-fixing agreement” and says they are not necessary to protect the amateur status of N.C.A.A. athletes.
“By unlawfully agreeing not to offer multiyear athletics-based discounts,” the lawsuit argues, “the N.C.A.A. and its member institutions have ensured that student-athletes who are injured or who simply do not meet the school’s expectations can be cut from a team and their scholarships terminated.”
The suit argues that the N.C.A.A. is also violating antitrust rules by limiting the number of scholarships that each team can award.