NCAA amateur model set to be challenged for future student-athlete compensation, benefits and conference autonomy

NCAA amateur model set to be challenged for future student-athlete compensation, benefits and conference autonomy

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NCAA amateur model set to be challenged for future student-athlete compensation, benefits and conference autonomy

Jeffrey L. Kessler, Partner and Co-Executive Chair of Winston & Strawn LLP, is set to take on the NCAA in an antitrust challenge to the NCAA’s restriction on payments of athletes.

Kessler has litigated high-profile sports-antitrust cases, including McNeil v. the NFL, which led to the establishment of NFL free agency, and was part of ending the 2011 NFL lockout in Brady v. NFL.

Kessler also negotiated the current free agency and salary cap systems in the NFL and NBA.

Trial taking on the NCAA is approaching, beginning Sept. 4, which has been moved up from December.

If Kessler wins the class-action lawsuit, it would change the NCAA’s longtime amateur model and would be another victory for him representing players.

“We have already won on showing that the rules are anti-competitive,” Kessler told Vols Wire.

“The trial is focused on the Defendant’s, the NCAA’s burden, to show that there is pro-competitive justification or restricted competition,” he said.

Kessler says that “we have athletes who brought the cases” forward and “the trial is about their defenses.”

He also feels confident in winning the case, paving the way for compensation and benefits going forward for student-athletes.

“We do not think that they have any evidence to prove their defenses and therefore we think we are going to win the trial,” he said.

To be clear, this case is not about images and likeness regarding third-party video games, but about limitation under NCAA and conference rules that student-athletes may receive only tuition, required fees, room and board and required books in exchange for their services as players.

“This case is not about images and likeness, our case is about the school’s being restricted from getting more compensation and benefits to the athletes than they are currently allowed to give,” Kessler said.

A win in the case could also change the landscape of conferences.

“I believe if we win, the Power 5 conferences and others will be able to decide whether to give their athletes money, greater healthcare, greater insurance coverage – a whole variety of things that we think the competitive market can produce, but it will not change the rules about athletes not getting paid from third parties like video gaming companies.

“If that change is going to come, it will not come from our litigation.”

Kessler thinks “each conference will end up setting its own rules” and “allowing conference autonomy within the NCAA is more likely to keep everyone in the NCAA.”

“The SEC will have its set of rules, the Big 12 will have its set of rules, etc.,” he said. “If schools do not like the rules of one conference then they may move to another conference.

“I do not think this is related to Power 5 conferences breaking off and are more likely to stay in the NCAA if they are not restricted by the NCAA. What I think the Power 5 conferences have problems with is the NCAA poses restrictions on them that are very suitable for them. They may be suitable for mid-major conferences, but are not suitable for teams that are making hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue.”

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