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Former WVU running back files class action against five major conferences

By Kyla Asbury | Mar 7, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - Former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston is suing the NCAA and five major conferences after he claims they conspired to fix the value of athletic scholarships and prevent them from covering the actual cost of attendance.

The conferences involved are the Pacific 12 Conference, the Big Ten Conference, the Big Twelve Conference, the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Alston, on behalf of himself and all other scholarship football players who have played since February 2010 in the five named conferences, claims players are essentially working full-time football jobs and going to school, according to a complaint filed March 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Alston claims the defendants have studied and acknowledged that a so-called "full ride" scholarship does not cover the full cost of attending school.

"Athletes are often a few thousand dollars short for the typical expenses of a student," the complaint states. "These costs include money for gas, food and other necessities."

Alston claims while players scrimp, coaches and universities most certainly do not. The average salary for major college football coaches is more than $2 million, with some coaches earning more than $7 million, he says.

"How is it that players cannot even make ends meet while the schools make tens of millions? The NCAA and the power conferences have agreed that football bowl subdivision football players may only receive payments that the NCAA approves and the power conference schools agree to," the complaint states.

Alston claims the primary form of payment is an athletic scholarship, formally known as a grant-in-aid.

The NCAA and power conferences have agreed to unlawfully cap the value of a grant-in-aid at an amount substantially below what a football bowl subdivision football player would receive for his services in a competitive market, and at an amount below what it costs to attend school, according to the suit.

Alston claims the defendants actions violate the Sherman Act.

"The value of a grant-in-aid is often several thousand dollars below the actual cost of attending a school... In the highly competitive marketplace of power conference football, every football bowl subdivision football player unquestionably would receive a grant-in-aid that actually covers the cost of attendance," the complaint states.

Alston claims the five conference defendants stated that if they were not bound by the collusive agreement among themselves and their co-conspirators that comprise Division I, they would implement such an increase.

"Moreover, if collusion among conferences were eliminated, every football bowl subdivision football player likely would receive further additional compensation above the cost of attendance," according to the suit.

The cost of attendance for Alston's senior year at WVU - for a full-time non-resident, off-campus student - was approximately $34,561.00, according to the suit. This included tuition, books and supplies, loan fees, "personal and transportation," and room and board.

Alston claims for the 2012-2013 academic year, the grant-in-aid money Alston received from WVU was substantially less than the full cost of attendance.

To help bridge this gap, Alston took out $5,500 in federal direct subsidized loans, according to the suit.

Alston claims in 2013, after completing his college career and graduating from WVU, he signed as a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints.

He was released in June 2013 and retired from organized football shortly thereafter. Alston is now in graduate school pursuing a masters of business administration.

Alston is seeking the NCAA and the five conferences to discontinue the alleged practice of not including the actual cost of attendance in scholarships. He is also seeking for members of the class to receive damages in the amount of the difference between the value of their scholarships and their actual costs of attendance.

He is being represented by Jon T. King and Robert B. Carey of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP; Steve W. Berman; and Bruce L. Simon and Thomas K. Boardman of Pearson, Simon & Warshaw LLP.

In February, the National Labor Relations Board met in Chicago to hear a request from Northwestern University football players to form what could be the first college athletes' union in U.S. history.

Attorneys suggested that the highly regimented structure of football at Northwestern, and the tight control of players' daily lives, essentially make it a business, and the relationship of the school to the players was one of an employer to employee.

Also last month, a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., ruled former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon's class action lawsuit against the NCAA would go to trial barring a settlement, according to ESPN.

O'Bannon's case asks the NCAA to share with college athletes the hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue generated from the use of their likeness in video games and other media.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case number: 3:14-cv-01011

From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at classactions@legalnewsline.com.

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