Like never before in its history, the NCAA has come under attack on numerous fronts, legal and otherwise. From Northwestern players fighting to unionize college football to a former West Virginia football player accusing The Association in a lawsuit of capping the value of an athletic scholarship below the actual cost of attendance to the ongoing O’Bannon case, the very foundation of the governing body of collegiate athletics is quickly crumbling.
The latest attack on the organization, which Deadspin calls “NCAA-killing,” comes from sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who Monday filed an antitrust claim against the NCAA in a New Jersey federal court. Four basketball and football players are listed as plaintiffs in the claim, including current Clemson defensive back Martin Jenkins. Also listed are former UTEP tight end Kevin Perry and ex-Cal tight end Bill Tyndall.
Also named as defendants in the claim are the five so-called power football conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
The antitrust claim alleges, ESPN.com writes, that the NCAA “has unlawfully capped player compensation at the value of an athletic scholarship.”
The claim, however, goes well beyond bridging the gap between the value of a scholarship and the actual cost of attendance. Instead, it sets the stage for college football and basketball players to be paid by the universities for their sports services and talents.
“The main objective is to strike down permanently the restrictions that prevent athletes in Division I basketball and the top tier of college football from being fairly compensated for the billions of dollars in revenues that they help generate,” Kessler told the website. “In no other business — and college sports is big business — would it ever be suggested that the people who are providing the essential services work for free. Only in big-time college sports is that line drawn.”
The fact that Kessler is involved in this latest assault on the NCAA could be a game-changer. Kessler was partly responsible for the creation of free agency in the NFL in the early nineties, and he hopes to see similar results when it comes to college athletics.
“We’re looking to change the system. That’s the main goal,” said the attorney. “We want the market for players to emerge.”
Unlike others, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are not seeking class-action damages (they are seeking individual damages, however). Rather, they are seeking an injunction that would end what the suit claims is “price-fixing” at the hands of the NCAA “cartel,” with the ultimate goal being that players could be paid by outside sources well above the cost of a scholarship or even the cost of attendance.
The NCAA has yet to respond publicly to this latest attack on its sports model.