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NCAA settles class-action lawsuit

Katie Kohler | Thursday, January 31, 2008

The NCAA is prepared to ease restrictions on educational expenses for current student-athletes and set aside $10 million to reimburse former athletes.

The decision is part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by former athletes who argued that NCAA limits on scholarships – which can cover only tuition, books, housing and meals – are an unlawful restraint of trade because of the billions of dollars generated through major college football and basketball.

The settlement, which includes a provision to allow NCAA member schools to offer year-round health insurance for student-athletes, will not become official until a judge sanctions it and both sides give final approval.

How the settlement would affect the approximately 700 Division I athletes at Notre Dame is unclear, senior associate athletic director John Heisler said.

“It would be premature to know [how it affects] Notre Dame for sure,” he said. “I think it is the next step in a legal conversation that’s been ongoing for some time and I don’t know that we know the full extent of what the implications will be.”

Former football players Jason White of Stanford and Brian Polak of UCLA, and former basketball players Jovan Harris of San Francisco and Chris Craig of Texas-El Paso first filed the class action suit in February 2006.

Heisler warned that the settlement reached Wednesday might not reflect the final version.

“The judge has to agree to the settlement and it’s going to take some time for this to shake out. And we’re going to have to continue to analyze [how it] impacts us and impacts any of our athletes,” he said. “I think it’s just too early to know.”

The suit claimed that athletes need a significantly higher amount of funding in addition to tuition, books, housing and meals than they currently receive through their athletic scholarships.

Under terms of the deal, students-athletes will be able to apply for as much as $2,500 a year for up to three years for reimbursement of certain “out-of-pocket expenses,” inluding résumé preparation and career counseling. Former student-athletes must file their claims within three years.

Some of the costs athletes could soon have reimbursed include traveling home for family emergencies and purchasing computers.

The financial impact on Notre Dame and how many athletes will take advantage of the programis still unclear, Heisler said.

“I don’t think any institution knows that [how much it will cost]. It’s hard to project that. They talked about the NCAA providing this additional funding for the student athlete opportunity fund for five years,” he said. “What happens after that, I don’t think that question was answered. I think we have a ways to go before any of us have an appreciation on how it impacts any of us here.”

Much of the money to be made available after the settlement would be funneled through the NCAA’s existing $218 million opportunity fund.

“The biggest dollar amount talked about is the student athlete opportunity fund which is an NCAA sponsored program which basically provides funding through the conferences to the membership and that money can be used for a variety of things,” Heisler said. “It can be medical in nature, it could be academic in nature, it can involve emergency sorts of things in terms of getting somebody home for a funeral if there’s a death in the family.”

Chris Hine contributed reporting.

Information from Associated Press was used in this report.