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Class Action Lawsuit Alleges that Ivy League’s Collusive Refusal to Award Athletic Scholarships or Compensate Ivy League Athletes Violates Antitrust Laws

DATE: March 7, 2023
PRACTICE AREAS: Antitrust

The lawsuit seeks treble damages for current and former Ivy League athletes as well as an injunction against the “Ivy League Agreement”

A class action antitrust lawsuit was filed today against the eight universities of the Ivy League and its coordinating body, the Ivy League Council of Presidents, alleging that their “Ivy League Agreement” violates antitrust laws. Tamenang Choh and Grace Kirk, who were recruited to play and have played for Brown University’s basketball team, brought the lawsuit on behalf of a class of fellow current and former Ivy League collegiate athletes. Choh is a Brown graduate and Kirk is a current Brown student.

The suit alleges that under the “Ivy League Agreement,” the Ivy League schools agree not to award athletic scholarships nor compensate or reimburse education-related expenses incurred by the approximately 8,000 Ivy League student athletes each year for their athletic services. The lawsuit alleges that this agreement constitutes unlawful price fixing in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. 

The Ivy League is the only NCAA Division-I athletic conference that prohibits, by agreement among its member schools, athletic scholarships and forbids the compensation or reimbursement of collegiate athletes for their athletic services. 

More specifically, the lawsuit alleges that:

  • The Ivy League universities engage in unfettered competition, including with regard to pay, for their respective officers, faculty members, employees, and even graduate students, yet they agree not to provide athletic scholarships or compensate or reimburse collegiate athletes for their athletic services.
  • The Ivy League universities’ restrictions on competition for their collegiate athletes are no different, as a matter of law, than the restrictions formerly imposed by the NCAA on athletic scholarships that the Supreme Court in 2021 unanimously struck down as an antitrust violation in NCAA v. Alston;
  • The Ivy League Agreement constitutes the kind of price fixing that the courts have condemned as per se illegal, allowing for no justification; and
  • The Ivy League has no justifications for its agreement that can withstand judicial scrutiny—if the court is willing to entertain such purported justifications at all.

The Complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. The lawsuit seeks treble damages for a class of current and former Ivy League athletes (going back to March 7, 2019) and an injunction to end the Ivy League Agreement and any similar contract, combination, or conspiracy by the Defendants.

“We hope that this lawsuit will bring Ivy League athletics into the 21st century by subjecting these universities’ treatment of Ivy League athletes to the antitrust laws, just as the courts have applied such laws to all other NCAA Division I athletic programs,” said Eric Cramer, one of the lawyers for the Ivy athletes. Mr. Cramer is one of the nation’s leading antitrust litigators and Chairman of the nationally recognized complex commercial litigation firm Berger Montague.

“We intend to demonstrate in this lawsuit that academically prestigious universities can comply with the antitrust laws with respect to their academically and athletically high-achieving students and still maintain their institutions’ reputations for academic excellence,” said Robert Litan, a senior antitrust shareholder and litigator at Berger Montague, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, and an economist with more than four decades of published economic research. 

The Ivy League agreement is particularly egregious given the huge amounts of money these schools have in their endowments. Where hundreds of Division I schools with much fewer resources compete without limits on athletic scholarships and compensation or reimbursement, the Ivy League schools have no excuse for not doing the same,” said Ted Normand, co-counsel for the proposed class and a founding partner of Freedman Normand Friedland LLP. 

Named Defendants

The Defendants are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Yale University, and the Ivy League Council of Presidents.

For more information on the litigation, go to Ivycartel.com

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About the Plaintiffs’ Legal Team 

Berger Montague PC is one of the nation’s most experienced and successful complex litigation firms, having pioneered antitrust class actions. The firm has recovered more than $40 billion in verdicts and settlements for class members over 50 years and achieved one of the largest antitrust class action settlements—nearly $6 billion—in U.S. history.

Freedman Normand Friedland LLP lawyers have litigated antitrust, securities, and market manipulation claims for both plaintiffs and defendants for more than a decade. Over the past two years, the firm has been appointed as lead or co-lead counsel in over fifteen class actions. 

Zeisler & Zeisler, P.C. is a boutique complex litigation and insolvency firm located in Connecticut which has zealously and successfully advocated for its clients for over 50 years. Z&Z’s focus includes antitrust, securities, FINRA Arbitrations, business litigation, commercial reorganization and bankruptcy litigation.

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