Floyd heads NCAA lawsuit

Sharrif Floyd is one of seven named plaintiffs in a class action suit brought against the NCAA and 11 major college sports conferences claiming that they are "an illegal cartel" that makes money off of college athletes without any sharing of the revenue with players.

Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and the U.S. District Court of Minnesota are both back in the news as Floyd was named as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NCAA and 11 major conferences, charging them with fixing prices by capping the value of athletic scholarships.

The lawsuit was filed in Minneapolis Friday. The defendants include the NCAA, the Big Ten, Pac 12, Big Twelve, SEC, ACC, American Athletic Conference, Atlantic Sun Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference.

Ironically, the Twin Cities has been at the center of similar NFL antitrust lawsuits, which began almost 30 years ago when the USFL sued the NFL for antitrust, which was quickly followed up when Reggie White was the lead plaintiff in the first free agency lawsuit. Both cases, and several that would follow, were heard by Judge David Doty. While Doty is now retired, his court has maintained jurisdiction over similar antitrust lawsuits. When Drew Brees was the lead plaintiff in class action suit against the NFL in 2011 when the NFL locked out players when the Collective Bargaining Agreement was allowed to expire, the case and numerous subsequent motions were heard in the Minnesota District Court.

It would appear that Minnesota will once again be at Ground Zero of another significant lawsuit. The momentum has been building for some time that the NCAA and major college sports programs are raking in billions of dollars in television and cable contracts, merchandising and on-site ticket sales annually, yet the players, most of whom will never see the field in the NFL and are never technically paid a wage, are the commodity but don't share in the profits.

Critics contend that scholarship athletes are getting a free education, which, at major universities can be upwards of $100-200,000. But, unlike academic scholarships, athletes more than make up for the amount invested by the institution in their scholarships by bringing in tens of millions in revenue to those schools if their programs are successful.

It should be noted that what a university charges the average student isn't the true cost of having those students in the classroom, it is what the market will bear. It costs more to go to Duke than it does to go Duluth, because Duke carries a sense of prestige that UMD doesn't, allowing Duke to charge much more and be more selective about what students it accepts. While players receive the opportunity to get a college education, the value of what they receive isn't in the form of a payment. If a kid in college comes to that university poor, odds are he or she remains poor the entire time spent at college.

Floyd is the lead plaintiff in the suit which includes former Kennesaw State basketball player Ashley Holliday, the first female plaintiff in an antitrust action targeting the NCAA.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of all college football, men's basketball and women's basketball players in the 11 major college conferences. The NCAA and its member schools are described as an illegal cartel that restrains trade by fixing the cost of athletes on scholarship with room and board included.

The allegations made by Floyd and the other six named plaintiffs (Holliday, Kyle Theret, Duane Bennett, Chris Stone, John Bohannon and Chris Davenport) are similar to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Jeffrey Kessler, who for years has been an outside counsel to the NFL Players Association. The suits claim that the NCAA and its member schools have harvested billions of dollars as the business of college sports has exploded, the amount invested in players has been capped while the schools funnel millions of dollars into stadiums/arenas, state-of-the-art training facilities, luxury locker rooms and high-end dorm rooms. In addition, to make a school more attractive to recruits, the salaries of top college coaches has skyrocketed, while players remain employees of the program with their earning power capped to the amount it costs for classes, housing and food.

What has brought the NCAA's money-making explosion to a head in recent years has been the proliferation of teams leaving one conference for another, even if there is no geographic connection to that school, in order to create larger super conferences that will bring in more television revenue to the members of those prestigious conference. Nebraska and Missouri left the Big Twelve – Nebraska coming to the Big 10 and Mizzou heading to the SEC. Rutgers is located in New Jersey, but, starting this year along with Maryland, will be a member of the Big Ten, which historically has been comprised of Midwest schools.

The contention may end up being that players like Floyd received the opportunity for a free education at the University of Florida. But, unlike other scholarship students, the revenue the Gators football program generates on an annual basis is spent by the school on everything from teacher salaries, school employees and the bricks and mortar for school buildings and facilities. There seems to be no end in sight to the cash flow coming into the NCAA and its member schools, as college football continues to grow and prosper in the financial world in the era of conferences operating their own cable networks.

Just as Reggie White became the face of the free agency lawsuits that opened the door for player prosperity in terms of sharing in the wealth that their performance helped generate for NFL owners and league big wigs, Floyd may soon be the face of the changing of the guard in how major college athletes are compensated for the billions of dollars they help generate for the NCAA and its member schools.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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