NCAA seeks to halt looming rule allowing colleges to pay athletes

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association has asked an appeals court to block a ruling that requires the organization to allow its member schools to pay student-athletes at least $5,000 a year starting Aug. 1.

The Indianapolis-based NCAA said the judge who last year ruled it violates antitrust laws by limiting what schools can offer athletes has refused to put her order on hold while the case is on appeal. The organization said in a court filing Friday that it faces “irreparable” harm if it’s forced in two weeks to sweep away players’ amateur status and open the door for them to be paid.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, following a 15-day trial in Oakland, California, last August ruled that the NCAA is a multibillion-dollar cartel that cheats athletes. She struck down the NCAA’s claims that its restrictions on pay for athletes preserved competitive balance and amateurism in college sports.

The judge stopped short of completely opening the market, saying the NCAA could limit payments to football and men’s basketball players as long as the cap was above $5,000 a year.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard arguments four months ago in the NCAA’s bid to overturn Wilken’s ruling. Aug. 1 is when colleges begin sending written offer letters to student-athletes scheduled to enroll after July 1, 2016.

Public interest

The NCAA argued Friday that it’s in the public interest to wait for the appeals process to conclude before forcing the college sports governing body to abandon its decades-old practices and traditions.

“It makes little sense to mandate fundamental changes to amateur college athletics where there is significant dispute about the legal basis for doing so, and where the injunction is likely to create great confusion among the schools that must comply,” the organization said in its filing.

The NCAA’s argument that competition among its schools qualifies as an ’irreparable harm’ is anathema to antitrust law, said Sathya Gosselin, a lawyer for the athletes.

“Its latest arguments demonstrate that it has not prepared, in the year since its trial loss, for a change in the status quo,” Gosselin said in an e-mail. “That is disappointing but perhaps not surprising. We hope that the member schools have done more to ready themselves for the injunction.”

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