Lawyers for the NCAA, FBS conferences and plaintiffs involved in a cost of attendance lawsuit filed a motion Monday to "indefinitely" delay their case, strongly suggesting they're close to reaching a damages settlement.
Settling the case could pay former and current NCAA athletes for cost of attendance stipends the NCAA previously didn't allow them to receive. The lawsuit, filed in 2014 by former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston and later consolidated with other cases, claimed the NCAA and the conferences violated antitrust law by capping the value of an athletic scholarship at less than the actual cost of attending college.
In a joint motion Monday, the NCAA, conferences and plaintiffs wrote, "The parties agree that it is in the interests of justice and efficient management of the litigation to continue indefinitely the remaining dates related to the proceedings on Plaintiffs' motion for certification of damages classes."
The parties had been scheduled for a Jan. 17, 2017, hearing regarding whether a judge would certify the damages classes as class actions.
If the classes got certified, they could have covered tens of thousands of athletes and been worth hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. The case has sought to cover FBS football players, Division I men's basketball players and Division I women's basketball players who received athletic scholarships dating back to 2009-10.
Since the lawsuit was filed, the NCAA and conferences changed their rule and allowed schools to pay cost of attendance stipends to players. Once the Supreme Court decided in October not to hear the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit -- over paying players for use of their names, images and likenesses --O'Bannon's legal precedent became a settled case.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in O'Bannon that the NCAA is required to let schools provide scholarships up to the cost of attendance and nothing more. That ruling essentially meant the cost of attendance plaintiffs, whose case is in the Ninth Circuit and before the same O'Bannon judge, would receive damages if they were certified as a class action.
Steve Berman, the lead attorney for the cost of attendance plaintiffs, and the NCAA declined to comment.
In a separate part of this case and a related lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken already granted class-action status to groups of athletes challenging the NCAA's new cost-of-attendance limits. That case, which is jointly led by Berman and prominent sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler, is commonly referred to as the Kessler case. One of the lead plaintiffs is current Wisconsin basketball star Nigel Hayes. The Kessler case seeks an injunction that would eliminate the NCAA's new limits.
Kessler, who said he is unaware if the damages case has been settled, said his case would not be impacted by such a settlement. Additional depositions are trying to be scheduled in January for the injunctive case, and discovery will likely end by late January or early February, Kessler said.
"We're going full forward with our discovery and moving forward with injunctive relief," Kessler said.