By Ken Reed

It’s not imminent but when looking at recent trends and developments it’s clear that the NCAA’s cartel-like economic model will eventually be put to death.

The most recent lawsuit against the NCAA was filed Monday. The suit calls the NCAA an “unlawful cartel” and paints big-time college athletics as blatantly violating antitrust laws. The suit also claims that the NCAA is illegally restricting the earning power of football and men’s college basketball players. Besides the NCAA, the new suit is going after the five biggest conferences, the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12. The suit seeks monetary damages and a declaration that the defendants’ practices violate federal antitrust laws.

“As a result of these illegal restrictions, market forces have been shoved aside and substantial damages have been inflicted upon a host of college athletes whose services have yielded riches only for others,” according to the court filing. “This class action is necessary to end the NCAA’s unlawful cartel, which is inconsistent with the most fundamental principles of antitrust law.”

The heat has definitely been turned up on the NCAA and its economic model the last couple years. Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA should soon be going to trial, unless a settlement is reached. O’Bannon’s suit charges the NCAA with unauthorized use of college athletes’ likenesses in video games. The Collegiate Licensing Company and Electronic Arts (EA) were also named in the suit but have reached a settlement in the case.

Other recent actions include: 1) Northwestern University football players attempting to form the first college athletes’ union. Players’ attorneys say there is an abundance of evidence showing that the relationship between the school and the players is that of an employer to employee; and 2) West Virginia football player Shawne Alston filed a suit against the NCAA and the big five conferences earlier this month. His suit makes similar claims to those in Monday’s filing.

The NCAA will vigorously fight all these developments because they don’t want to lose their cartel-like advantages. Besides not having to compensate athletes at anything close to marketplace value, they don’t want to have to start worrying about things like workers compensation. Also, under the current system, big-time colleges can operate their athletic departments under the educational non-profit umbrella that American universities enjoy.

Nevertheless, the pressure keeps coming at the NCAA from all angles and it won’t subside because the NCAA is on the wrong side of history.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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