The Department of Justice joins the lawsuit targeting the NCAA’s athlete transfer restrictions.
“College athletes should be able to choose institutions that best meet their academic, personal and professional development needs without anticompetitive restrictions that limit their mobility by sacrificing a year of athletic competition,” Jonathan Kanter, the Justice Department’s antitrust chief, said in a statement. .
Federal antitrust prosecutors have long had the NCAA on their radar and have filed amicus briefs in private cases in support of college athletes, including a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that loosened limits on their compensation.
The lawsuit joined by the Justice Department on Thursday focuses on a rule that delays athletic eligibility for student-athletes who transfer schools for the second time. Students are eligible immediately after one transfer but must sit out a year the second time.
The NCAA declined to comment on the Biden administration’s intervention.
Earlier this week, the union said it had reached an agreement with the states to extend a judge’s temporary restraining order against the transfer rule into a preliminary injunction that will last through the rest of the 2023-24 season. The deal will allow any multi-transfer athlete to compete based on the same rules as other students.
However, the Justice Department’s involvement in the multistate lawsuit came to light on the same day that federal lawmakers sparred over a controversial proposal that would give college sports officials an exemption from federal antitrust law.
According to the lawsuit, the rule “is a no-hunt agreement between horizontally competing member schools that allocates the market for the labor of NCAA Division I college athletes,” referring to agreements typically between employers not to hire each other’s workers.
“It is ironic that this rule, which was designed to promote the well-being of college athletes, strips them of the agency and opportunity to improve their well-being as they see fit,” the states and the Department of Justice said in the lawsuit.
A discussion draft that includes provisions called for by the NCAA was unveiled last week by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), would create a congressionally appointed commission to help enforce national rules on advertising rights deals, prevent athletes from being classified as employees and create a legal cover for the NCAA and its members.
But such sweeping measures have little chance of winning bipartisan approval, Charlie Baker, a congressional ally of the NCAA president and former Massachusetts governor, said after he testified before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing on Thursday.
The representative said, “It is difficult to imagine” that lawmakers will reach an agreement in this session on antitrust exemption. Lori Trahan (Democrat from Massachusetts), adding that there is a “wide gap” between lawmakers in the House and Senate.
“This Congress doesn’t look like a Congress where we’re going to have a lot of partisan victories,” Trahan said. These are big and thorny issues. These are difficult issues. I’m not optimistic that this will be the conference in which we explore college athletics extensively.