A federal judge has granted class-action status for the damages portion of an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, a ruling that could force the association to pay billions of dollars to current and former college athletes.
The case, House v. NCAA, is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Judge Claudia Wilken. Her previous rulings in NCAA-related cases paved the way for college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, and directed more money into athletes’ hands.
The lawsuit, brought by former Arizona State swimmer Grant House in 2020, challenges the NCAA’s remaining NIL compensation restrictions. Former TCU and Oregon women’s basketball player Sedona Prince and former Illinois football player Tymir Oliver are also listed as plaintiffs.
Judge Wilken’s latest decision opens the door for more than 14,000 current and former college athletes to seek damages from the NCAA if it loses the case.
Billions in Potential Damages for Class Members
The plaintiffs’ attorneys claim athletes who were restricted from cashing in on their fame before the NCAA lifted its NIL ban in 2021 deserve damages for lost earning potential.
They are also targeting the NCAA and five wealthiest athletic conferences for a share of the billions in media rights revenue generated from televising football and basketball games. Plaintiffs argue these lucrative deals are built on the use of players’ names, images and likenesses.
Lead attorney Steve Berman said the goal is to “strike down all current prohibitions on NIL,” including the NCAA rule barring conferences from directly paying athletes for NIL rights.
If the NCAA loses, it could be forced to implement revenue-sharing agreements resembling those of pro sports leagues, providing substantial payouts to class members based on media rights deals worth billions annually.
NCAA Faces Multiple Antitrust Lawsuits
The class-action certification represents a major procedural win for plaintiffs and adds significant financial risk for the NCAA.
The association is battling on multiple fronts to defend its athlete compensation rules. It awaits a Supreme Court decision in a separate antitrust case challenging the NCAA’s caps on education-related benefits.
Wilken has overseen several aspects of the NCAA’s NIL saga in cases originating in her court. Her rulings helped spur the NCAA to lift restrictions on athletes monetizing endorsement deals and personal brands.
In 2014, Wilken ruled against NCAA amateurism rules restricting player compensation in the so-called O’Bannon case. Though later partially overturned on appeal, the decision opened the door to schools providing cost-of-attendance stipends to athletes.
Her injunction in the Alston case prohibited the NCAA from capping education-related compensation and ultimately led to the adoption of NIL policy changes across the country.
What’s Next in the Case
With class status granted, the number of plaintiffs could quickly swell to more than 14,000 current and former athletes. The case will now move to the discovery phase as both sides prepare for trial.
The NCAA, which faces potential damages approaching single-digit billions, per legal experts, will likely seek a settlement to limit financial exposure. But plaintiffs’ attorneys will negotiate from a position of strength with the court’s class certification secured.
Wilken’s rulings have followed a consistent pattern detrimental to the NCAA’s legal arguments. If this case reaches trial, prospects for an association victory appear dim.
A court defeat would deal a massive financial blow and require major changes to the NCAA’s athlete compensation model. But plaintiffs’ attorneys are hunting bigger game: a ruling that strikes down for good the NCAA’s amateurism system.