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Deppe v. NCAA: Motion to Dismiss and Strike Granted in Part and Denied in Part

Peter Deppe (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) filed suit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (hereinafter “NCAA” or “Defendant”) under Section 1 of the Sherman. The suit was filed on March 8, 2016 in the United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division (“Court”). Recently, the NCAA moved for dismissal in accordance with Rule 12 and to strike certain pleadings. The Court granted the request in part and denied in part.

Factual Background

The facts as presented in the Class Action Compliant (hereinafter “Complaint”) are as follows. Plaintiff was a punter who was recruited by several Division I FBS institutions. Plaintiff was offered scholarships by some institutions and was invited as a walk-on by others. He decided to enroll at the Northern Illinois University (“NIU”). During his freshman year he was red-shirted and expected to receive a scholarship in following years based on assertions of a then NIU assistant football coach. According to the Complaint, NIU recruited another punter and Plaintiff realized he was unlikely to receive adequate playing time. As a result, he looked into the possibility of transferring to another institution. Plaintiff came in contact with the football coaching staff at the University of Iowa (“Iowa”). According to the Complaint, Iowa invited the Plaintiff to walk-on to the football team as long as he would be immediately eligible to compete. Per NCAA rules pertaining to football transfers, Plaintiff would not be immediately eligible to compete without a waiver of NCAA rules. Because Plaintiff was not immediately eligible to compete, Iowa located another punter and, thus, there was not room for Plaintiff on the Iowa football team. Plaintiff attempted to seek a waiver from the NCAA, but did so without the support of a member institution. Accordingly, the NCAA indicated it could not grant waiver without the waiver being presented by a member institution.

Motion to Dismiss Antitrust Claims

The Court noted that the claims set forth by the Plaintiff are identical to claims set forth in Pugh v. NCAA and the parties agreed there is no legal distinction between the two cases. The Court relied on dicta from NCAA v. Board of Regents by stating “most of the regulatory controls of the NCAA are justifiable means of fostering competition among amateur athletic teams and therefore procompetitive because they enhance public interest in intercollegiate activities.” The Plaintiff challenges the “year-in-residence” bylaw set forth in Article 14 of the NCAA Division I Manual, which directly relates to eligibility. The Court concluded, as it did in Pugh, that “eligibility bylaws such as this one are presumptively procompetitive and do not violate the Sherman Act.” Accordingly, the Court dismissed this allegation with prejudice.

Motion to Dismiss Injunctive Relief

The Plaintiff’s complaint requested equitable relief “requiring NCAA member institutions to offer multi-year Division I football scholarships to remedy their past wrongful conduct, and enjoining Defendant from artificially reducing the total supply of scholarships….” The NCAA argued the Plaintiff did not met his burden to establish that he had standing to raise a claim for injunctive relief, because he did not establish that he is currently subject to the challenged NCAA rules or that he will be subject to them in the future. The Complaint made no mention or allegation that Plaintiff is currently enrolled in an NCAA Division I institution and, further, contains no allegation regarding whether he is attempting to or is interested in playing football at an NCAA Division I institution. Therefore, dismissal of the Plaintiff’s injunctive relief claims was required because the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute. However, the Court dismissed his claims without prejudice and, thus, gives the Plaintiff the opportunity to amend his pleadings.

Motion to Strike Class Allegations

The NCAA argued the Transfer Core Issues Class allegations are needlessly confusing and will complicate the case moving forward and, therefore, the NCAA will suffer prejudice if the Plaintiff seeks to expand the scope of discovery based on irrelevant class allegations. The Court noted motions to strike are generally disfavored in the law. Accordingly, the Court denied the NCAA’s motion to strike by indicating that an amended complaint and the possibility of eliminating potential prejudice through case management or agreement in regards to discovery will likely resolve the issues presented by the NCAA.

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