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The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled Wednesday that two lawsuits against the NCAA and its conferences over athletic scholarship rules will be consolidated in the Northern District of California.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken will oversee the Shawne Alston cost-of-attendance case filed in California and the Marvin Jenkins scholarship case filed by prominent sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler in New Jersey. Additional tag-along lawsuits will likely also fall under Wilken, who is currently hearing the Ed O'Bannon and Sam Keller name, image and likeness cases against the NCAA.
Alston, a former West Virginia running back, sued the NCAA, SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 in March for allegedly violating antitrust law by capping the value of athletic scholarships below the actual cost of attendance. Alston's class-action suit seeks damages and an injunction.
Also in March, Kessler filed the Jenkins lawsuit against the NCAA and the five major conferences and alleged that college athletes' compensation has been unlawfully capped at scholarships. Jenkins is a Clemson football player and one of several plaintiffs in the suit brought by Kessler, who wants a free market for college players when they sign with schools.
Alston's lawyers successfully sought for their case to be consolidated with Jenkins in California. Jenkins' lawyers argued that the cases were markedly different and belonged separated. If they were to be consolidated, Jenkins' lawyers wanted the case in New Jersey.
The five-member judicial panel, chaired by John Heyburn II, ruled that the distinctions in the cases don't outweigh the “numerous and complex common questions” in the litigation. For instance, both cases may attack the NCAA's bylaws limiting athletes' scholarship value, the panel wrote.
“Additionally, both actions will involve similar defenses regarding the protection of amateurism in college sports and the promotion of competitive balance,” the panel wrote. “Thus, it is likely that factual issues and discovery will overlap, particularly as to the definition of the revenant market(s) and the affirmative defenses.”
The panel cited the ongoing O'Bannon and Keller cases as evidence that the factual issues in the scholarship cases will be complex. O'Bannon and Keller were consolidated under Wilken for many years before recently being separated prior to trial. Wilken has gained “substantial familiarity with the factual and procedural issues that may arise in this litigation,” the panel wrote. "Additionally, Judge Wilken is an able and experienced transferee judge who we are confident will steer this litigation on an efficient and prudent course."
The NCAA opposed the cases being consolidated. The association had argued that if the cases were linked together, they should be centralized in Indianapolis, where the NCAA's national office is located.