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NCAA and conferences face litigation over scholarships

The dust may not even be settled from the O'Bannon anti-trust suit before the NCAA finds itself in court again facing more anti-trust litigation over the value of scholarships. Let's take a look at some of the implications the litigation might have on the Pac-12.

Jamie Squire

So far, the year 2014 has been a whirlwind for the NCAA with players filing grievances in front of labor boards, a push for major conference autonomy, and heavy litigation with the O'Bannon trial and the issue of concussions. The NCAA is not likely to come out of this exactly the same as it when into it, but for the most part it has fought off just about any attempt to make reform. Now with the dust not even close to settling on the O'Bannon trial, more litigation accuses the NCAA and 11 member conferences of anti-trust violations for price fixing the value of scholarships below the actual cost of attendance.

CBS Sport's Jon Solomon reports that a consolidated class-action group consisting of 14 players is using market-based arguments to claim that the NCAA and several of its member conferences have illegally capped player scholarships below the cost of attendance (or worth for revenue sports). The plaintiffs are arguing that it should be the conferences that set values on scholarships and not the NCAA. Ultimately, the ideal scenario, according to the plaintiffs' argument, would be for conferences to compete against one another to attract recruits to their respective universities by removing limitations on financial aid agreements.

The pending case again the NCAA and 11 conferences is far from neat. As Solomon notes, the case has been hamstrung by disagreements among between the lawyers representing the different plaintiffs before the cases were consolidated into one. Even some women's basketball players who had cases against the NCAA were brought into the anti-trust suit claiming that the full-ride scholarships that they were offered and received failed to cover the full cost of attending college. According to Solomon, the presence of the female plaintiffs in this case presents the potential that Title IX could be factor into the case after being absent from O'Bannon trial.

The plaintiffs' demand that the price of full attendance be covered and set by the conferences likely has a familiar ring to it to a lot of people. The Pac-12 presidents' letter sent out to the presidents of the other four conferences that pushes towards major conference autonomy and the ability for schools to cover the full cost of tuition. The outside pressure from the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Northwestern football players and this lawsuit over scholarships have the NCAA and the major conferences scurrying to make reform before they are legally obligated to. In a recent interview that aired on the Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany both argued that market-reform was needed to shift more revenues towards the athletes. Each commissioner, however, cautioned against anything that would resemble pay-for-play, which they define as anything above and beyond the cost of attendance.

Clearly, Pac-12 schools are a step ahead in stirring the initiative to make reform before change is pushed upon them. As this article from Stewart Mandel indicates, the inevitability of the the reform has led to a shift in momentum towards major conference autonomy after vehement opposition to it in the past. It's going to happen, but how the reform is enacted is anybody's guess. The NCAA is still likely to dig in its heels for awhile citing the importance of equality among all of its member institution. But the reality of the revenues generated by the revenue sports at major conference schools can't be ignored. The NCAA can't ignore them, and the courts won't likely either.