In Defense of the NCAA
Fans settling in to watch college football this fall should take heed. Class-action litigation pending against the NCAA could upend the model that has defined college athletics for more than a century. Recognizing how high the stakes are, the NCAA has hired veteran litigator Beth Wilkinson ’87 to play defense.
The plaintiffs in Jenkins v. NCAA are male and female athletes who seek a declaratory judgment that current NCAA rules, which cap the amount of money colleges can pay athletes to the value of a full scholarship, are a form of price-fixing, and that they should be able to negotiate much larger payments in return for their services. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Ligation consolidated the suits and transferred them to Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. If Wilken doesn’t grant summary judgment, the case is expected to go to trial late in 2018. If the NCAA loses, it could spark a bidding war for top players and end college athletics as athletes and fans have always known it. “They are not professional players,” Wilkinson said. “They are student-athletes and they are receiving a scholarship to attend school and participate in these activities like other students participate in extracurricular activities.”
Now a principal at Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz, she is a 30-year litigation veteran. As an assistant U.S. attorney, she won the Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award, the Justice Department’s highest honor, for her prosecution of drug lord Dandeny Muñoz Mosquera in the bombing of a Colombian airliner, and argued successfully for the execution of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case. In recent years, she has also served as lead counsel in antitrust suits brought against Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
The National Law Journal said that Wilkinson’s hiring sets up a “dream matchup” in the litigation. The NCAA clearly agrees. “Beth’s unparalleled track record of success throughout her career in high-profile cases, as well as her past representations in antitrust matters and of the sports and higher education communities, make her especially well-suited to lead the defense of the association as the litigation proceeds,” said Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer.