In a classic late Friday afternoon news dump move, the NCAA announced it settled the Alston case.
Thousands of college athletes who received traditional sports scholarships rather than a new version that covers the full cost of attending school will be compensated for the difference under a $208.7 million settlement reached Friday night between the NCAA and plaintiffs in a presumptive class-action antitrust lawsuit against the association and 11 major conferences.
The deal, which must be approved by a federal judge, would be the second-largest legal settlement in the NCAA’s history. Similar litigation in a case led by Stanford football football player Jason White ended in 2008 with an agreement worth just under $230 million.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers sound pretty darn happy. And why shouldn’t they be?
“We’re very pleased that we could get a 100% settlement for these kids,” Steve Berman, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s very unusual to get 100% in a settlement.”
The NCAA would have you believe it paid 100 cents on the dollar because it’s all about helping the kids.
“The agreement maintains cost of attendance as an appropriate dividing line between collegiate and professional sports,” the NCAA said in a statement. “In fact, the NCAA and conferences only settled this case because the terms are consistent with Division I financial aid rules, which allow athletics-based aid up to the full cost of obtaining a college education. Whenever possible and appropriate, the NCAA prefers to provide benefits to student-athletes rather than incur the ongoing cost of lawyers and legal processes.”
If only it were possible and appropriate a few years ago.
Of course that’s a load of crap. The real reason was the NCAA stood to lose a lot more than 100% of the claimed damages.
While the settlement (if approved) will require the NCAA to pay $208.7 million, it will not require the NCAA to admit any wrongdoing. This is not surprising. A settlement is not an admission of guilt. It is a contract where the defendant and plaintiff agree on an arrangement that both find preferable to continuing the litigation. It is possible, if not likely, that NCAA attorneys were confident they would have ultimately prevailed in a trial against Alston and other players. But any such confidence would have come with a major risk—the risk of losing. Along those lines, we know it is worth at least $208.7 million for the NCAA to terminate this litigation, otherwise the NCAA would not have agreed to the terms of this settlement.
So what does the NCAA gain from a settlement that, if approved would require the NCAA to pay such a hefty fee? Perhaps most important, the NCAA eliminates the possibility of the “worst case” scenario occurring: losing the case, having to pay much more than $208.7 million and being forced to radically change its governing rules. The NCAA also cuts off any further obligations to share evidence or partake in depositions that might reveal damaging information about the NCAA and its officials.
The NCAA’s done a lot of agreeing recently in antitrust cases, more than $300 million’s worth in just the last three years alone. And for all its brave talk that it will “continue to vigorously oppose the remaining portion of the lawsuit seeking pay for play”, the more it settles these, the more the lawyers in the outstanding litigation — which includes Alston, by the way, as those plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would nullify the current limits — smell blood. Jeffrey Kessler is still out there and he’s not going away.