DOJ Joins Lawsuit to End NCAA Rule Limiting College Athlete Mobility and Competition

Washington, D.C. – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced its support for college athletes in their fight against restrictions imposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Emphasizing the importance of athletes being able to choose institutions that best suit their needs, the DOJ’s antitrust head, Jonathan Kanter, declared that student athletes should not face anticompetitive barriers or sacrifice a year of athletic competition.

Federal antitrust prosecutors have been closely monitoring the NCAA and have actively supported college athletes in various legal cases. Most recently, they backed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that relaxed restrictions on athlete compensation. The DOJ has now joined a lawsuit that focuses on a particular NCAA rule: the delay of athletic eligibility for student athletes who transfer schools multiple times. While students are immediately eligible after their first transfer, they must sit out for a year for any subsequent transfers.

The NCAA has refrained from commenting on the Biden administration’s intervention in this matter. Earlier this week, the association reached an agreement with states to extend a temporary restraining order against the transfer rule. This extension will now function as a preliminary injunction for the remainder of the 2023-24 season, allowing multiple-transfer athletes to compete under the same rules as other students.

Interestingly, the DOJ’s involvement in this multi-state lawsuit coincided with a debate among federal lawmakers over a proposal that would grant college sports officials an exemption from federal antitrust law. The lawsuit argues that the transfer rule operates as a “no-poach agreement” among member schools, essentially dividing the labor market for NCAA Division I college athletes. The states and DOJ contend that the rule, under the guise of promoting athlete welfare, actually limits their agency and opportunity for personal optimization.

Moreover, a discussion draft unveiled by Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) includes provisions supported by the NCAA. These provisions propose the creation of a congressionally-appointed panel to enforce national rules on publicity rights deals, as well as the prohibition of athlete classification as employees. The draft aims to provide legal protection to the NCAA and its members.

However, the chances of such expansive measures receiving bipartisan approval seem slim. Following his testimony before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, NCAA President Charlie Baker’s congressional ally, Representative Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), expressed doubts about reaching an agreement on an antitrust exemption in this session of Congress. Representative Trahan highlighted the significant divide between House and Senate lawmakers, suggesting that this Congress may not be the one to address the larger issues surrounding college athletics.

As the DOJ throws its weight behind college athletes, their fight against anticompetitive restrictions imposed by the NCAA gains momentum. With ongoing legal battles and debates in Congress, the future of collegiate sports and athlete mobility remains uncertain.