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Judge OKs NCAA Antitrust Deal For $209M, Attorney Fees at $45M

A California federal judge said Friday she’ll grant final approval to the NCAA and 11 athletic conferences’ $209 million NCAA Antitrust deal with student-athletes and grant class counsel’s request for nearly $45 million in fees, costs, and expenses, partially resolving suits over allegedly anti-competitive caps on student scholarships.

During a hearing in Oakland, California, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said the 3.62 loadstar multiplier the class attorneys used to calculate fees is “on the high side.” But she said she’ll approve the $41.7 million fee request, which represents 20 percent of the settlement’s common fund, because the case was risky and the deal is “excellent.”

“I do think it’s an excellent settlement,” the judge said. “I don’t have a problem approving it and I’m happy to do so.”

The ruling partially resolves multiple lawsuits that were consolidated in California’s Northern District in 2014. The suits challenge the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s rules prohibiting universities from paying students more than a full grant-in-aid, which covers up to the full cost of attendance.

After years of litigation, the parties reached a settlement and asked the court to preliminarily approve it in early February. But before the judge ruled on the motion, the deal received pushback from ex-University of Southern California linebacker Lamar Dawson, who objected to it since it would release state labor law claims that were still pending in his own suit.

In response, the parties agreed that the settlement wouldn’t release claims from lawsuits like Dawson’s and the long-running O’Bannon case, over player likenesses and other compensation. They also agreed to eliminate some qualifiers on how much aid a student must have received to qualify as a class member. In March, Judge Wilken preliminarily approved the revised deal.

On Friday, the athletes’ attorney, Steve W. Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, said so far the settlement notice has reached approximately 73 percent of the class. Although there are approximately 53,000 class members, no one has objected to the overall deal or opted out of it, and the only objection they received was regarding the requested attorneys’ fees, he said.

Berman said he suspects the deal has been so well received because the average payout is about $6,000 per class member, which includes current and former Division I college football and college basketball players who received a full athletics grant-in-aid between March 5, 2010, and March 21, 2017.

“A $6,000 check to recent college graduates is a significant recovery,” he said.

Judge Wilken commended the parties for reaching the settlement, but she asked both sides if they foresee any problems that could arise with entering a partial final judgment. The settlement doesn’t resolve certain claims in the litigation, originally brought under a case called Jenkins v. NCAA, that seek injunctive relief.

Attorneys for both parties responded that they don’t think the settlement will create problems for the unresolved litigation.

Judge Wilken said she’ll approve the deal, awarding class attorneys nearly $3.2 million in costs and expenses, and $20,000 each as an incentive award for the four class representatives.

The athletes are represented by Steve W. Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and Benjamin E. Shiftan and Bruce Simon of Pearson Simon & Warshaw LLP.

The NCAA and the athletic conferences are represented by Jeffrey A. Mishkin of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP.

The case is In re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Athletic Grant-in-Aid Antitrust Litigation, case number 4:14-md-02541, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The above was reported by Law360.

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