A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday came closer to clearing the way for more than 50,000 current and former college athletes to finally receive their shares of a $208.7 million legal settlement with the NCAA and 11 major conferences concerning the association’s current compensation limits.
The settlement, initially reached in February 2017, has been delayed by an objection from one former college football player and his attorney. They have been challenging the amount of money that was awarded to the plaintiffs’ lawyers in fees.
In a 3-0 ruling, the appeals panel rejected those arguments, saying that U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken did not abuse her discretion when she awarded the plaintiffs’ lawyers $41.7 million in fees and $3.2 million in expenses from the settlement fund.
Barring a petition to have the appeal re-heard by a panel of 11 judges in the 9th Circuit, a filing that must occur within 14 days, Wednesday’s decision will allow the process of getting checks to athletes to begin in about a month, said plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Berman.
Caroline Tucker, the attorney representing objector Darrin Duncan, could not be reached for comment. Duncan was a wide receiver for Western Michigan.
The appellate panel initially scheduled oral arguments concerning the objection, then determined in mid-March that the sides’ written filings were sufficient to allow for a ruling.
“Hopefully, (Tucker) will use her better judgment” and not seek a re-hearing, Berman said. “These young athletes are looking forward to receiving a check.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have developed a list of roughly 53,000 football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players who are set to get some share of the settlement money, according to Wednesday’s ruling. Those who played their sport for four years will get an average of about $6,000 apiece, the ruling said.
The case began in March 2014 on behalf of former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston, and it had two objectives:
–Monetary damages for athletes who played college sports before the NCAA increased its limits on athlete compensation to allow for athletic scholarships covering the full cost of attending school.
–An injunction that would eliminate any association-wide limits on athlete compensation, and let individual conferences decide the issue.
The bid for an injunction is ongoing. Wilken recently found that the cost-of-attendance-based limit on athlete compensation still puts the NCAA in violation of antitrust law. She said that while the association can continue to limit compensation and benefits not related to education, it cannot limit compensation and benefits related to education. Both sides are appealing this ruling.
The damages settlement covers scholarship athletes in Division I men’s basketball, Division I women’s basketball or Bowl Subdivision football whose award was limited by NCAA rules to basically tuition, room, board, books and fees. Those athletes would be eligible for money from the settlement if they were on scholarship during the 2009-10 school year — or if they were on scholarship at any time between then and Aug. 1, 2015, when an NCAA rules change let Division I schools begin giving athletes in any sport a scholarship that covers the full cost of attendance.
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However, under certain circumstances, settlement money also will be available to scholarship athletes in the three covered sports even if their school, after the rules change, chose not to provide a scholarship covering the full cost of attendance. These athletes would be eligible for settlement money if their school has provided, is providing, or by June 1, 2017 indicated an intent to start providing during the 2017-18 school year any money toward the difference between the value of a traditional athletic scholarship and the full cost of attendance.
The amounts of payments to the athletes will be based on the number of years they were on scholarship and on the difference between the value of the scholarship they received and the cost of attendance at their school at the time.