King of the Court(room): HoopsHD interviews class-action attorney Steve Berman

The NCAA Tournament always bring us news on the court (this year’s biggest storyline: upsets!) as well as off the court (Sister Jean!), but we also saw some news IN court last week.  Specifically, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, site of a nationwide class-action lawsuit regarding NCAA-imposed caps on scholarship money available to student-athletes, where Judge Claudia Wilken granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and cleared the way for the case to go to trial in December. The plaintiffs, represented by Steve Berman of Hagens Berman and Jeff Kessler of Winston & Strawn, are attempting to remove the current limits on available compensation by arguing that the NCAA’s actions constitute anti-competitive behavior that has caused injury to all D-1 athletes who played men’s or women’s basketball from March 2010 through March 2017.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Mr. Berman about the lawsuit and who is going to win tonight’s NCAA title game.

You have worked on some the largest settlements ever including Big Tobacco, Enron, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and many others: can you give me a brief overview of last week’s ruling by US District Judge Claudia Wilken granting your motion for summary judgment in your lawsuit against the NCAA about caps that they impose on scholarships? The judge ruled that we had properly defined the market in terms of antitrust law, and that the restrictions on what athletes could be paid had anti-competitive effects. Now we are going to trial on the issue of whether the NCAA can show that their rules are pro-competitive based on the least restrictive alternatives, whether they can prohibit education-related expenses, and whether individual conferences can be allowed to set the rules on compensating their own student-athletes themselves.

Do you fear that we might see some competitive imbalance if the Big East decides to pay Jalen Brunson twice as much as the Big 10 pays Moe Wagner (rather than just letting the NCAA pick a dollar amount that everyone must abide by)? Economists would say that if everyone believes in amateurism, which is central to the NCAA’s product, then conferences will not be motivated to pay amounts that are too high. If there is backlash by the public and people stop going to games or tuning in, then they can always decide to lower their amount of compensation.

What is a Grant-In-Aid (GIA) and how does it relate to the cost of attendance? A GIA is a formula that the NCAA imposed supposedly to measure the value of a scholarship, while the cost of attendance goes beyond the GIA definition by about $6000 due to items like books and incidental expenses.

Why did former Western Michigan football player Darrin Duncan object to last year’s $208 million settlement on behalf of tens of thousands of current/former D-1 student-athletes, and what do you think that he will eventually be able to recover? I do not think that he will recover anything. I think that his objection was about attorney fees ($41 million!) so I am not very worried about it.

What are the next steps as you prepare for trial this December? We will just do what lawyers do: review the evidence that was submitted and streamline it into the 5 days that we will probably be allotted to present our side of the case.

How do you respond to people who believe that athletes are already receive sufficient compensation in terms of tuition/room and board/books/etc.? In our country we have a well-established law called the Sherman Act, which says that companies cannot get together and set prices. The NCAA and its members have done that, and in a free world without illegal price-fixing the market will set the price that athletes should get paid.

If you were elected NCAA president tomorrow, what is the most crucial issue that would be your top priority? To eliminate cheating. The current rules are frustrating to players/coaches alike. Maybe by having a fair compensation system we can have fair play by coaches/schools rather than seeing players get paid money under the table.

The NFL’s $1 billion class action settlement with retired players provided money to compensate injured athletes: what relief is available to former players who wish to pursue personal injury claims against the NCAA? That is not part of our settlement and there is nothing right now that offers compensation for past injuries. A couple of law firms have filed lawsuits relating to football injuries and they are ongoing.

You went to college at Michigan: will we see you in the crowd tonight in San Antonio cheering for the Wolverines? No…but I will be cheering in my house for them! I hope all the ESPN analysts are wrong because I think this is the 1st time ever that all of them are picking a single team to win the title (Villanova).

This entry was posted in Interviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.