Reimbursing athletes likely to become easier

The Baltimore Sun

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA plans to ease restrictions on educational expenses for athletes while setting aside $10 million to reimburse former athletes as part of a tentative settlement in a class-action lawsuit.

The agreement, which a judge must approve and both sides review before becoming final, stems from a federal antitrust lawsuit filed in February 2006 by two former football players and a former basketball player from California.

Initially, NCAA officials said the case had no merit. The proposed settlement includes the governing body's denial of wrongdoing, but the NCAA also acknowledges it sought a settlement to avoid additional expenses and distraction from litigation.

"It does provide greater flexibility for student-athletes who meet some of the qualifications for expenses that weren't otherwise covered," NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said yesterday.

While athletes attending school through 2012-13 will find fewer restrictions used to determine reimbursement for educational expenses, resume preparation and career counseling, the 12,000 former student-athletes who joined the class action suit would have access to a new $10 million fund for prior expenses. Those claims must be filed within three years.

In addition, the NCAA has agreed to let Division I schools provide year-round health insurance for athletes and accident insurance to cover the costs of injuries suffered on the playing field.

Stephen Morrissey, the attorney for the former athletes, could not be reached for comment.

The plaintiffs argued that NCAA limits on scholarships, which cover tuition, books, housing and meals, are an unlawful restraint of trade because of the billions of dollars generated from TV, radio, licensing and other agreements through major college football and basketball.

They believe the limits "deny a legitimate share of the tremendous benefits of their enterprise to the student-athletes who make the big business of big-time college sports possible," the lawsuit contends.

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