Ivy League Denies Athletic Scholarship Ban Violates Antitrust Law

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Ivy League members on Monday asked a Connecticut federal judge to dismiss a prospective class action filed by current and former student-athletes while asserting that the eight Ivy universities' bans on athletic scholarships don't violate U.S. antitrust law. 

Brought in March by two Brown University athletes, the lawsuit accuses that school and the others in the league of an unlawful price-fixing scheme in denying college athletes certain benefits they could receive at competing universities, Reuters reported.

The two name plaintiffs turned down athletic scholarships at non-Ivy League schools, and their lawsuit was filed on behalf of all Ivy League athletes who had enrolled in one of the defendant schools since March 2019 after being recruited to play one or more sports there. Brown awarded the name-plaintiffs need-based financial aid. After a 2021 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA began allowing schools to pay athletes $5,980 in annual academic awards.

The plaintiffs contend Ivy League schools are the only ones in Division I athletics that "refuse to provide any athletic scholarships or other compensation/reimbursement for athletic services."

Lawyers for the universities argued in a jointly submitted court filing that college athletic leagues have authority to set rules for financial aid and compensation for student-athletes. The filing said the Ivy League's member schools had "independently" sought to "foster campus cultures that do not prioritize athletics."

The defense lawyers also argued that the eight schools of the Ivy League do not form a "market" — a necessary threshold in an antitrust suit — since they are among more than 350 schools competing in the NCAA's Division I.

According to Mike Scarcella of Reuters, the case has pulled in defense lawyers from antitrust practice leadership posts, including Sullivan & Cromwell’s Renata Hesse for Harvard University; Juan Arteaga of Crowell & Moring for Princeton University; Karen Lent of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for Columbia University; and Douglas Litvack of Jenner & Block for Dartmouth College.

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