On Tuesday March 7th, 2023, one current basketball player and one former basketball player from Brown University filed a federal lawsuit in Hartford, Connecticut against the entire Ivy League athletic conference, according to Providence Business News. The lawsuit accuses the eight Ivy League universities of conspiring in a “price-fixing agreement” by not offering athletic scholarships, naming Harvard University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Yale University, Brown University, and the Ivy League Council of Presidents as defendants.
The Ivy League is the only Division I conference that does not grant athletic scholarships as a longstanding policy dating back to 1954, writes Pat Eaton-Robb of AP Sports for ABC News.
According to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Choh & Kirk v. Brown et al., this policy is a form of price-fixing, which is illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act. The suit argues the policy is “per se illegal. It is naked restraint of trade among horizontal competitors.” According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the suit goes on to explain that without this policy, the Ivy League universities would likely compete with each other to offer athletes some form of compensation, as other Division I universities do. In other words, the lawsuit alleges “that Ivy League athletes have paid more for their education and earned less in compensation or reimbursement than they would have in the absence of the agreement.”
As documented by Michael McCann writing for Yahoo! Sports, the plaintiffs, Choh and Kirk, “seek certification to represent a class of [sic] that would include all Ivy League athletes recruited to a play sport from Mar. 7, 2019, to a future date when the challenged conduct ceases. The class would include more than 10,000 members.” Should they succeed, the Ivy League universities would be forced to pay financial compensation to all athletes represented in the suit, and would have to end their policy of prohibiting athletic scholarships.
Executive Director of the Ivy League Council of Presidents Robin Harris defended the current policy. As quoted by Pat Eaton-Robb, she argued that: “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…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.’” She further noted, according to Mike Jensen in The Philadelphia Inquirer, that “[a]s students and their families consider the higher education and, specifically, the intercollegiate athletics opportunities available to them, there are a wide variety of options.”
This lawsuit comes almost two years after the NCAA, in response to the Supreme Court ruling in NCAA v. Alston, allowed athletes to potentially profit off of their “NIL,” or name, image, and likeness. This decision overruled a previous NCAA restriction which restricted compensation while playing as a student.