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Ivy League Faces Federal Class Action Lawsuit Over Athletic Scholarships Policy

The Dillon Fieldhouse contains Harvard's varsity equipment room, sports medicine facility, and locker rooms for several men's and women's teams.
The Dillon Fieldhouse contains Harvard's varsity equipment room, sports medicine facility, and locker rooms for several men's and women's teams. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Paton D. Roberts and Sophia C. Scott, Crimson Staff Writers

Two Brown University student athletes have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all present and former Ivy League athletes recruited since March 2019. Demanding a jury trial, the suit claims the eight Ivy League colleges unlawfully colluded to reduce financial aid and compensation for student-athletes.

Grace Kirk, a current member of Brown University’s women’s basketball team, and Tamenang Choh, a former member of the men’s team, filed the lawsuit March 7 in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut.

The plaintiffs claim the Ivy League Agreement is a “naked restraint of trade among horizontal competitors,” having “direct anticompetitive effects, raising the net price of education that Ivy League Athletes pay and suppressing compensation for the athletic services they provide” to their respective universities.

Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris defended the body’s practice of not offering athletic scholarships in a statement March 8.

“The Ivy League athletics model is built upon the foundational principle that student-athletes should be representative of the wider student body, including the opportunity to receive need-based financial aid,” Harris wrote.

“In turn, choosing and embracing that principle then provides each Ivy League student-athlete a journey that balances a world-class academic experience with the opportunity to compete in Division I athletics and ultimately paves a path for lifelong success,” Harris added.

Kirk and Choh contend Ivy League athletes are owed compensation for their service, alleging the League’s policy against offering athletic scholarships functions as an illegal price-fixing agreement which effectively denies athletes financial aid and fair payment.

“Regardless of whether considered as a restraint on the price of education, the value of financial aid, the price of athletic services, or the level of compensation to Ivy League athletes, the Ivy League Agreement is per se illegal,” the lawsuit reads.

They allege this agreement constitutes a breach of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 — a policy designed to protect “trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies.”

This is not Harvard’s first brush with the national debate regarding student-athlete compensation in college athletics. In 2019, former Harvard Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise said he does not think student-athletes should be compensated for their participation.

“At Harvard, I do not think athletes should be paid. In a sense, they will be paid down the road, learning some great lessons that they use to pursue their lives in a meaningful way,” Scalise said in at 2019 interview.

“I believe people should come here to get an education, not just to play their sport,” he added. “You’re coming here to get an education. Athletics is part of it, but not the sole reason for you to be here.”

Later that year, the NCAA voted unanimously to enable student-athletes to be paid for the usage of their names, images, and likenesses.

“Here at Harvard, we believe strongly in offering athletics programming that is part of the educational experience, and is co-curricular rather than extracurricular,” Scalise told The Crimson shortly after the NCAA decision. “Education has always been our priority, and that will continue.”

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the lawsuit.

—Staff writer Paton D. Roberts can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @paton_dr.

—Staff writer Sophia C. Scott can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @ScottSophia_.

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