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Ivy League Athletes Sue Universities for Lack of Athletic Scholarships

Two student-athletes have filed suit against the Ivy League and its member universities, claiming they have engaged in price-fixing by not offering athletic scholarships or compensation while conducting business as for-profit organizations. Two basketball players from Brown university have filed a lawsuit in the Connecticut District Court challenging a 69-year-old joint ivy league agreement that forbids member schools from providing athletic scholarships or paying athletes for their performance.

According to the lawsuit asking for class-action status, the agreement has direct anti-competitive implications, increasing the net price of education that Ivy League players pay and suppressing reimbursement for the athletic competition they provide to the schools. Tamenang Choh and Grace Kirk, the plaintiffs, assert that they were offered full-tuition athletic scholarships from at least one other division 1 school. However, Brown University only provided need-based financial aid, which did not fully help with the enrollment cost or strain of athletic performance.

For more than 10,000 present and past Ivy League athletes dating back to 2019, the complaint asks for damages and the termination of the no-scholarship agreement between the league. The limitation on athletic scholarships has been around since its establishment in 1954, with a slight revision in 2017.

Eight Ivy League institutions are defendants in the lawsuit: Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, and Penn. There is policy support by Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League, who claims that the true league's athletic programs exist on the fundamental idea that student-athletes should be representative of the larger student body, including having access to the need-based financial aid. Each Ivy League student-athlete embarks on a journey that balances top-tier academic education with the chance to play Division 1 athletics, ultimately paving the way for lifelong success.

Attorneys for the Brown athletes, however, emphasize that other prestigious academic institutions, like Stanford and Duke, provide athletic scholarships, uphold high academic standards, and compete for exceptional athletes without predetermined price caps. The lawsuit also claims that Ivy League universities significantly influence a small group of individuals who are elite students and athletes. The league artificially reduces the market for those kids by refusing to award athletic scholarships. Among Division 1 athletic leagues, the Ivy League is unique in not providing athletic scholarships although the league has competed with more prominent schools for some solid recruits. With notable alums including Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jeremy Lin, Ivy League schools have found success beyond their collegiate playing years.

The Ivy League's stance has its critics who claim that the elite applicants may decide to attend other institutions that give scholarships, decreasing the athletic competition. Others contend that the league's academic requirements and the availability of need-based financial aid adequately compensate the athletes.

The League's policy was contested in court in 2008 by former Dartmouth football player Miles Richardson. Richardson similarly claimed that the Ivy League and its member institutions had conspired to restrict financial aid and scholarships in violation of antitrust laws. A federal judge dismissed the complaint after finding that the Ivy League's policy did not violate antitrust laws.

How the current legal dispute will turn out is still up in the air. To increase the chances of success, the plaintiffs are asking for the Ivy League acts to be, per se, illegal. However, they have defended this stance in the past, and its member institutions may contend that their academic standards justify it. With Princeton's current run in the NCAA tournament, this lawsuit could gain some traction in the public eye.

AJ Calabro is a former student-athlete at Syracuse University and a current law student at Roger Williams University. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @AJ_Calabro


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