In a landmark decision, U.S. District Judge William Shubb in Sacramento ruled Thursday that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) must face a pair of class actions filed in California federal court claiming a curbing in compensation for thousands of volunteer coaches violated federal antitrust law.
According to Reuters, the lawsuits had been filed in November and March by two prospective classes of volunteer coaches in baseball and in other sports — including soccer, swimming, and track and field — for the period between 2019 and 2023. According to the lawsuits, each class seeks damages of more than $5 million.
The complaints had alleged that the NCAA and its member schools had conspired to fix compensation for Division I volunteer coaches at zero, based on an NCAA bylaw that has since been withdrawn. The volunteer coaches are challenging what they depict as the NCAA’s ‘$0 salary cap’ policy. Until a bylaw change that took effect this month, the NCAA had limited the number of assistant coaches a school can hire while allowing for a ‘volunteer coach’ position.
In his ruling Judge Shubb stated, “In drawing all inferences in plaintiffs’ favor, it is not implausible that plaintiffs would have been paid a salary above $0 but for the NCAA’s adoption of the bylaw.”
The coaches claim that they have suffered antitrust injury, because their set compensation, $0, was below what they would have received had a school been able to pay them. Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that the large salaries received by the coaches as well as the overall increase in coach salaries, creates a strong inference that the bylaw was effective.
The NCAA has raised several defenses against the claims made by the coaches, including claiming that the coaches fail to assert their schools would have hired them as paid assistants. The lawyers for the organization also called the plaintiffs’ claims in the two cases “conclusory and lacking any facts to show their teams would have hired them as a paid assistant.” The organization also argued that competitive coaching positions exist at elite high schools and in professional sports.
However, Judge Shubb was not persuaded with the NCAA’s arguments, and found it plausible that the NCAA and its member schools could have conspired to price fix a line of coaches’ salaries to $0, and thus good enough to advance past a motion to dismiss.
In pretrial discovery, attorneys for the coaches can seek from schools and the NCAA emails, minutes of meetings and other materials related to volunteer coaches and the compensation they receive.
This decision comes as the NCAA is facing a variety of legal challenges over compensation for student athletes. A scheduling conference for these two cases is set for August 28th.