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Alston v. NCAA: The Parties Settle for in Excess of $208 million

In 2006, in White v. NCAA, a group of student-athletes filed suit against the NCAA on antitrust grounds seeking to recover damages for the difference between the full cost of attendance and the NCAA’s version of an athletic scholarship (i.e., tuition, fees, room and board, and books). The difference between full cost of attendance and full grant-in-aid as defined by the NCAA is generally $1,500.00-$6,000.00 depending on the locale of the institution. In 2008, the NCAA and the White plaintiffs reached a settlement that allowed student-athletes in the class to have access to funds for educational purposes. The White settlement was in excess of $210 million.

In 2014, former West Virginia University student-athlete Shawne Alston filed suit in the Northern District of California (the same court as O'Bannon) against the NCAA, SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12 and Big Ten. Alston claimed the NCAA and major conferences conspired to contain costs thereby fixing the value of full grant-in-aid in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Alston indicated in his petition that the NCAA membership has routinely defeated proposed legislation to increase full grant-in-aid merely for the purposes of containing costs, which Alston argued is not a viable procompetitive justification to alleged restraints on the market. Alston certified a class of similarly situated student-athletes who competed from February 2010 to the present. In addition to monetary damages (which are trebled under antitrust laws), Alston sought to enjoin the NCAA from enforcing the NCAA bylaws that cap full grant-in-aid.

In 2015, the NCAA expanded the allowable scholarship to include full cost of attendance. Like White, the NCAA and major conferences settled the Alston suit. According to the settlement documents filed with the Northern District of California, the NCAA has agreed to pay $208,664,455.00. It is important to note that the settlement funds will come from the NCAA’s reserve and will not be paid by the conferences or colleges and universities. It is reported that the student-athletes in the Alston class (the class includes Division I men's and women's basketball players and FBS football players who competed from 2009 to 2010 through 2016 to 2017 and did not receive a cost-of-attendance stipend) will receive between $5,000.00-$7,500.00 each with an average per student-athlete total of $6,763.00. The NCAA has agreed to fund fifty percent (50%) of the settlement within thirty (30) days of the Court’s approval of the Preliminary Approval Order and the remaining fifty percent (50%) within thirty (30) days of the final approval. Judge Wilken must first approve the settlement before the settlement is completed being that the Alston case is a class action matter.

Thinking back to 2006, it is interesting to recall that most antitrust scholars and experts considered the White case very weak. Eleven (11) years later, many of the same and new antitrust scholars and experts were championing the student-athletes’ claims and argued how strong the Alston case is. Some said they NCAA settled the case because they knew they would lose. Again, it is interesting to see how eleven (11) years of changes in public perception can alter the view of a case. The NCAA has now settled White and Alston for in excess of $400 million.

Although Alston and Jenkins were consolidated for the purposes of discovery, this settlement does not affect the Jenkins case. The Jenkins case will continue in its efforts to upend amateurism as defined by the NCAA and allow student-athletes to be compensated and receive funds in addition to the traditional scholarship.

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