Taryn Phaneuf Mar. 23, 2016, 9:15am


INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) — A former football player for Northern Illinois University is suing the NCAA, claiming the rules capping scholarships and governing transfers violate antitrust laws.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court, seeks to represent a class of players who have been impacted by the NCAA rules in question. It’s the latest in a number of challenges against the NCAA, Farrah Short, an attorney at Mintz Levin, told Legal Newsline.

“We’ve seen the number of legal challenges against the NCAA increase in recent years — a pattern that is likely to continue,” Short said. “It’s not surprising when you consider the money at stake in college sports.”

Peter Deppe is represented by Riley Williams & Piatt in Indianapolis and Hagens Berman in Seattle and California.

“Following some procedural wrangling in the other similar cases, the Deppe case looks to be an effort by (those attorneys) to make a case ‘stick’ against the NCAA on these issues,” she said.

The suit explains that Deppe was recruited his senior year of high school in 2014 by NIU as a punter for the school’s football team. After redshirting during his freshman year, one of his coaches allegedly indicated Deppe would receive an athletic scholarship his sophomore year.

However, that coach left the team to take a job at another school. Deppe learned he would not receive a scholarship.

In 2015, Deppe decided to look for opportunities to play elsewhere, according to court records. He was recruited by the University of Iowa, another NCAA Division I school, but it wanted him for the 2016 season.

However, in accordance with NCAA rules, Deppe would have to sit out for a year, making him ineligible to play until the 2017 season. Ultimately, his prospective school “decided to go in a different direction and pursue another punter who had immediate eligibility,” according to the complaint.

The suit alleges that capping the number of scholarships a team may award to players is a horizontal restraint, meaning it is a limit imposed by an agreement among competitors to minimize competition.

In this case, the competitors are the colleges and universities that participate in the NCAA and follow its regulations. As a result of the limit, institutions “have ensured that student-athletes in the Class receive tens of millions less for their labor for member institutions than they would receive – and the member institutions would pay – in a competitive market,” according to the complaint.

“One of the biggest issues for Deppe will be establishing that the NCAA regulations at issue unreasonably restrain competition. The court will have to balance any justifications asserted by the NCAA for the regulations against the alleged harm to competition,” Short said.

Deppe also claims that transfer rules are unlawful because they are anticompetitive. Contrasted with coaches who regularly take jobs at different schools to better their circumstances, student-athletes are penalized for transferring, the suit alleges.

“The NCAA’s transfer rules restrain players’ ability to make the best choices for themselves, including ones based on financial considerations, academic considerations, athletics considerations and personal circumstances,” the suit claims.

The suit seeks to have the rules declared unlawful and to award monetary damages to the plaintiffs.

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