A federal judge in Indiana on Tuesday dealt a significant blow to a lawsuit that has been seeking to challenging the NCAA’s rules that prevent some Division I football players from transferring to other schools without losing a season of athletics eligibility.
The case is being pursued primarily by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP on behalf of Peter Deppe, a punter who had planned to transfer from Northern Illinois to Iowa in 2015. The suit alleges that Iowa accepted Deppe academically but that Iowa’s athletics department declined to pursue a waiver that would have allowed Deppe to become eligible immediately and the NCAA would not consider a waiver request from Deppe. The suit alleges that Iowa then turned its attention toward another punter who would be eligible immediately without a waiver.
Deppe’s case is similar to another suit related to the NCAA’s transfer rules that the Hagens Berman firm has been pursuing but that also has been sidetracked by the same judge who is handling Deppe’s case. However, Deppe has remaining eligibility, and he was trying to transfer from one Football Bowl Subdivision school to another FBS school.
In the other case about the transfer rules, the named plaintiff — Devin Pugh — was attempting to transfer from a Football Championship Subdivision school to an FBS school, and that plaintiff’s eligibility has expired. (Football players can transfer from an FBS school to an FCS school without having to sit out a year or lose a season of eligibility.)
As with yet another suit the Hagens Berman firm is pursuing against the NCAA, the Deppe case also seeks to overturn the association’s rules capping the number of football scholarships a Division I football team may award.
However, at issue in Tuesday’s ruling was the NCAA’s bid for dismissal of the part of Deppe’s case pertaining to the so-called “year-in-residence” rule, which generally requires football players who transfer to sit out a year and their new school.
The lawyers for Deppe argued that this constitutes “an unreasonable restraint on trade,” and this violates antitrust laws.
As she did in Pugh’s case, U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt sided with the NCAA. Citing a prior ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and other precedents, Pratt ruled that since the NCAA transfer rule is an eligibility rule connected to education — as opposed to a restraint on trade — it does not violate antitrust law.
Pratt also ruled that Deppe did not have the legal standing to sue the NCAA because at the time the suit was filed, Deppe was not “enrolled at Division I school or playing or attempting to play football.” However, she noted that Deppe may be able to establish standing “by adequately pleading a sufficiently concrete and particularized injury,” and that during oral argument on the matter last week, his lawyers requested that ability to do. So her dismissal in that aspect of the case was made without prejudice.
Steve Berman, the lead attorney for Deppe, said his side will seek permission from Pratt to appeal the case to the 7th Circuit, although she denied such a bid in Pugh’s case.
The NCAA’s chief legal officer, Donald Remy, said in a statement: “It is unfortunate that plaintiffs’ lawyers continue to file meritless lawsuits while ignoring multiple court decisions that uphold NCAA transfer rule.”