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Overview of NCAA Brief

Today, the NCAA filed its post-trial brief, which summarizes the legal and factual arguments the Association made during the O’Bannon trial.  In sum, the plaintiffs’ failed to meet their burden of establishing that the challenged NCAA rules violate antitrust laws.

It is the position of the NCAA, as argued in the brief, that the rules that have been challenged in this case are essential to preserving amateur college sports in the United States, which are unique and distinct from professional sports.  This position is supported by longstanding Supreme Court precedent.  The Supreme Court clearly stated in 1984 that the fundamental principle of amateurism – that athletes not be paid for their performance – is at the core of what distinguishes college sports and that it is essential that the NCAA adopt and enforce rules such as this that preserve the revered tradition of amateurism.  The economists hired by plaintiffs’ lawyers acknowledged that every other amateur sports organization has rules that prevent athletes from being paid to play.  The NCAA is no different, and its amateurism rules are entitled to deference under the antitrust laws.

The plaintiffs did not meet their burden at trial to show that the NCAA’s rules violate the law.  Under applicable antitrust law, the plaintiffs needed to define a “relevant market” in which the alleged damage occurred.  They were unable to identify that market even on the last day of trial and in their post-trial brief.  The plaintiffs also were required under the law to show both anticompetitive effects and antitrust injury which they failed to do. 

Even if the plaintiff’s had established a satisfactory case, which they did not, and the burden shifted to the NCAA to demonstrate that its rules result in procompetitive benefits, there was substantial evidence at trial supporting four procompetitive benefits:

  • Rules Maintain NCAA’s Unique Amateur College Football and Men’s Basketball Product
  • Rules Increase Output of Division I Men’s Basketball and FBS Football
  • Rules Promote Competitive Balance
  • Rules Promote the Integration of Athletics and Academics
  • Any one of these would provide legally defensible justification for the rules the plaintiffs have challenged.

The plaintiffs also failed to prove that there is a “substantially less restrictive manner” for achieving these procompetitive benefits without “significantly increased cost” as is required under an antitrust analysis.

Finally, there was no evidence presented at trial, or over the several years that this case has been litigated, that would provide a basis for the Court to grant an injunction related to the NCAA’s ability to enforce its rules that would be supported by antitrust laws.