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Colorado among states suing NCAA over transfer rules

Joe Mueller

(The Center Square) – Colorado and several other states are suing the NCAA to allow athletes transferring between universities to be immediately eligible for competition.

Democratic Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser joined six other attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the NCAA requesting a permanent injunction for several rules they argue violate the Sherman Act, the nation's first antitrust act signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890. The NCAA's current required one-year waiting period for transfer athletes harms players and teams, they argue in the lawsuit.

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“The spirit of athletic competition at the heart of college sports is undermined by this rule, which is another in a long line of NCAA policies that courts have overturned for harming the rights of athletes to develop freely and fairly,” Weiser said in a statement. “By restricting mobility of athletes, the NCAA is adversely hindering student athletes from finding the best opportunities for themselves.”

NCAA bylaws restrict athletes from transferring between Division I schools by requiring a year of academic residency before they are eligible to compete. First-time transfers and athletes with waivers are exempt, which the lawsuit claims is inconsistently enforced.

The lawsuit also challenges the legality of the NCAA’s “Rule of Restitution.” If an athlete obtains an injunction against unlawful conduct of the NCAA, the organization “may impose draconian punishments on both the athlete and the institution if the injunction is ‘vacated, stayed or reversed of it is finally determined by the courts that injunctive relief is not or was not justified.’” The lawsuit claims many universities won’t allow athletes who challenge NCAA rules to compete.

“The Rule of Restitution’s purpose and effect is to deter challenges to the NCAA’s anticompetitive rules by attempting to deprive courts of the ability to grant effective relief and depriving individual college athletes and member universities of the practical ability to rely on court orders in their favor,” the lawsuit states. “Thus, the Rule of Restitution is itself a means of preventing defection from the anticompetitive agreement by member schools and of weaponizing the delay inherent in the litigation process to deter college athletes from mounting challenges to the antitrust merits of the NCAA’s rules.”

In 2016, a former Northwestern University basketball player filed an antitrust lawsuit against the school and the NCAA regarding the transfer rule. It was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois but withdrawn in 2018 after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the NCAA and against an athlete challenging the “year in residence” rule. The judges ruled the year-in-residence is “meant to preserve the amateur character of college athletics and is therefore presumptively procompetitive…”

The states' lawsuit claims the NCAA rules harm an athlete’s current and future earning potential and consumers “suffer antitrust injury due to the reduction in competition” for athletes.

“We support having all of our Colorado higher education institutions to be able to recruit and build their best possible teams without the transfer restrictions,” Weiser said.

Colorado is joined in the lawsuit by Ohio, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.