Suit claims antitrust law violations

Updated: October 26, 2010, 3:43 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NCAA was sued in federal court Monday in a case that seeks to overturn the governing body's policy of putting one-year limits on athletic scholarships.

The antitrust suit was filed in California on behalf of former Rice football player Joseph Agnew. It claims that Agnew lost his scholarship after he underwent shoulder and ankle surgeries prior to his junior year in 2008. Rice changed coaching staffs after Agnew's freshman season, when he played in all 13 of the school's games. He appealed and had his scholarship reinstated for his junior year, when he was no longer with the team.

Agnew had to cover the costs of school his senior year, according to the suit.

"Here's a kid who as a high school recruit had multiple scholarship offers," Rob Carey, plaintiffs' lawyer, told ESPN's Tom Farrey. "Then he gets injured and he's no longer wanted. If schools had to compete to sign him coming out of high school, he would have had a four-year scholarship."

Agnew's suit asks to represent other former players in all NCAA sports whose scholarships were not renewed.,* The suit claims that the prohibition of multi-year scholarships, along with limits on the number of scholarships each team can give out, drives up the cost of an education for athletes who lose their scholarships or are not on full scholarship.

"The NCAA is reviewing the allegations," NCAA spokesman Bob Williams wrote in an e-mail to USA Today. "However, 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."

Since 1973, the NCAA has banned colleges from offering scholarships for longer than one academic year. Scholarships are often renewed annually, but schools can decide not to renew for just about any reason -- including athletic performance.

The lawsuit highlights the roster turnover in the University of Kentucky men's basketball program last year under coach John Calipari. As Outside the Lines reported in January, several players said they were told their scholarships would not be renewed or felt pressured to leave the program.

In past antitrust suits, judges have often sided with the NCAA when challenged on rules the organization claims are necessary to preserve its notion of amateurism. But the NCAA in 2008 settled a lawsuit brought by former athletes who alleged that the NCAA acted illegally by prohibiting colleges from offering to cover the full cost of attendance for student-athletes.

Carey said that banning multi-year scholarships has nothing to do with amateurism, but rather coaches' ability to drop players they don't want to keep.

"We're not trying to disrupt things for the NCAA," Carey said. "We're just trying to give athletes some voice, and enforce existing antitrust law."

Information from ESPN enterprise reporter Tom Farrey is included in this report.