Joseph Agnew, a former defensive back at Rice University who lost his full scholarship his senior year, filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on Monday. The suit alleges violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and argues that one-year limits on scholarships are a "blatant price-fixing agreement" between the association and its member institutions. "By unlawfully agreeing not to offer multi-year athletics-based discounts, the NCAA and its member institutions have ensured that student-athletes who are injured or who simply do not meet the school's expectations can be cut from a team and their scholarships terminated," according to a copy of the 17-page complaint obtained by The Houston Chronicle.
Agnew, a highly recruited Texas high school player, chose Rice "in large part as a result of the sizable athletics-based discount promised to him by the university," according to the lawsuit. But after Todd Graham, the coach who recruited Agnew, left the program, the defensive back struggled to find playing time and suffered shoulder and ankle injuries that required surgery. He was cut from the team his junior year, and his scholarship was canceled. Though he appealed the university's decision and regained his scholarship for his junior year, Agnew did not play on the team. He was forced to pay tuition and expenses his senior year. His other options, the suit states, would have been to find another college or university willing to offer him a scholarship, or to abandon his education.
The lawsuit claims that if colleges were forced to compete for student-athletes in an open market without scholarship limits, the number of scholarships would increase, forcing schools to treat student-athletes more fairly by offering multi-year scholarships. "The NCAA will tell you these limits are necessary to maintain a level playing field in college sports," says Steve Berman, managing partner of the Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and one of Agnew's lawyers. "However, we believe the monopoly is designed to safeguard the school sports programs' profitability, which spawns multimillion-dollar coaching contracts and rich revenue streams for the schools."
The suit seeks to represent anyone who, while enrolled at an NCAA member institution, received an athletic-based scholarship for at least one year and had his or her scholarship reduced or eliminated.
According to The New York Times, the NCAA is reviewing the lawsuit. "It should be noted that the award of athletic scholarships on a one-year, renewable basis is the more typical approach taken within higher education for talent-based and academic scholarships in general," NCAA spokesperson Bob Williams told the paper.