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Milberg Class Action Challenges NCAA’s “Anticompetitive” Rules

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March 19, 2024

by Kaitlin Gagnon

Milberg attorneys have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (“UNC”) student-athlete Reese Brantmeier alleging antitrust violations against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”). The lawsuit asks a U.S. District Court to strike down the NCAA’s restrictions on student-athletes’ acceptance of prize money earned in non-NCAA competitions.

The NCAA’s longstanding “amateurism” rules prohibit student-athletes from accepting prize money earned primarily through participation in non-NCAA competitions, such as the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the U.S. Open Golf Championship, the U.S. Swimming Championships, and the U.S. Track and Field Championships.

Along with co-counsel attorneys from Miller Monroe & Plyler, Milberg challenges the NCAA’s “money-first, student-athlete-second approach” to its rules and regulations as “anticompetitive” and “unlawful.”

Reese Brantmeier, a sophomore at UNC and currently the No. 2 ranked singles and No. 1 ranked doubles collegiate tennis player in the country, filed the action on behalf of herself and other student-athletes competing in individual sports whose earning ability has been suppressed by the NCAA’s restrictions.

The NCAA refused to certify Brantmeier as an amateur in the fall of 2022, her first semester of college and on the UNC Women’s Tennis team, citing her acceptance of tournament prize money at the 2021 U.S. Open as a violation of the NCAA’s Rules protecting “amateurism.”

Brantmeier advanced to the third round of singles in the 2021 U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament and lost in the first round of the main draw of the Mixed Doubles Championship. Despite being entitled to receive over $40,000 in prize money, in an effort to preserve her eligibility to play collegiately, Brantmeier accepted the applicable NCAA cap of $10,000 plus her “actual and necessary” expenses as permitted by the NCAA.

Specifically, the NCAA challenged Brantmeier’s inclusion of the full cost (rather than half) of the hotel room she shared with her mother during tennis tournaments as part of her expenses — Reese was a 16-year-old high school junior at the time. Likewise, the NCAA objected to Brantmeier’s expense for a racket restringing 15 days prior to the competition, stating that this expense fell outside an alleged 14-day window that is absent from its rules, but the NCAA contended was “generally applied.”

Despite “extraordinary efforts” by Brantmeier and her mother to comply with the NCAA’s Rules and nearly two pages of exceptions, as a result of the NCAA’s investigation, Brantmeier was kept out of the collegiate lineup as a “cautionary measure.” This led to “significant and unnecessary emotional distress” during what the complaint alleges should have been “the most exciting time of [Brantmeier’s] life.”

Brantmeier would not be cleared to play for UNC until January 2023, after the NCAA required her to personally contribute more than $5,000 to a local charity.

“Reese and many other student-athletes have been harmed and continue to be harmed by the NCAA rules and by-laws that prevent these athletes from accepting prize money they have earned through non-NCAA competitions. Reese does not seek money but aims to eliminate the NCAA’s illegal and arbitrary restrictions.”

-Peggy Wedgworth, Milberg Senior Partner

With over 100 estimated class members, Brantmeier’s complaint challenges the NCAA’s “arcane, illogical constraint” which has resulted in “millions of dollars of student-athlete-earned prizes and awards going unclaimed or forfeited.”

“The NCAA’s farcical opposition to student athletes earning prize money for extracurricular, non-NCAA competition is pick-and-choose … The collective purpose and effect of [the NCAA’s] anticompetitive Rules is to “suppress and restrict” … so that the amount actually paid is significantly less than what would be provided in competitive labor markets for the athletes’ services.”

Through attorneys with Milberg and Miller Monroe & Plyler, Brantmeier is seeking an injunction prohibiting the NCAA and its unnamed co-conspirators from enforcing its anticompetitive and unlawful rules restricting student-athletes’ acceptance of prize money earned in non-NCAA competitions.

The Milberg attorney team consists of Peggy WedgworthDan Bryson, Lucy Inman, Arthur Stock, and Jacob Morse.

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