On Wednesday, in a lawsuit brought by student-athletes claiming that the value of their scholarships was anti-competitively capped by NCAA rules, the student-athletes sought approval of nearly $45 million in attorneys' fees, expenses and costs for class counsel. The request comes on the heels of a $209 million settlement reached between the athletes, the NCAA, and 11 major athletic conferences in March after extensive discovery and settlement negotiations in the litigation. The settlement would compensate tens of thousands of Division I college athletes who played men's or women's basketball or bowl subdivision football who received traditional sports scholarships rather than a new version that covers the full cost of attending school.
The request seeks approximately $41.7 million in fees (or 20% of the common fund), close to $3.2 million in costs and expenses, along with $20,000 each as an award to the four named plaintiffs, which includes former West Virginia University running back Shawne Alston among others. Athletes covered by the settlement who played their sport for four years will receive an average of $6,000. This amount is down from the plaintiffs' initial estimate of $6,800, but Wednesday's filing said that since the settlement was reached, "many additional schools are paying or have stated an intent to" provide cost-of-attendance-based scholarships. As a result, "the number of class members eligible to receive payment has grown significantly."
The student-athletes argued that the fee request is reasonable given the Ninth Circuit's 25 percent standard, and "could even be considered a below-market request." In support of the $45 million fee request, Wednesday's filing details the risks faced by plaintiffs' counsel in not receiving compensation in pursuing the matter, the millions of dollars of expenses incurred in taking and responding to discovery in the case, the efficiency with which the case was litigated, and the extensiveness and complexity of the settlement negotiations. The student-athletes also highlighted the exceptional result for the class achieved by their counsel, noting that if the Court were to grant the request, class members would receive approximately 50% of their damages, "a result almost never achieved in large, complex antitrust cases."
A final approval hearing on the settlement is set for November 17.
The case is In re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Athletic Grant-in-Aid Cap Antitrust Litigation, 4:14-md-02541, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Oakland Division.
This article was originally printed in the ABA “Trades, Sports and Professional Associations” Blog, on September 8, 2017, and is reprinted here with permission.
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