Why the NCAA Should Fear the Latest Lawsuit Challenging Its Amateur Model

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 17, 2014

USA Today

Another day, another fight the NCAA must take on in the courtroom in order to keep the status quo.

Only this time, it's facing a heavyweightand his name is Jeffrey Kessler.

Don't know him? Well, you will soon, because he could join Ed O'Bannon as the face of reform in college athletics.

According to ESPN.com's Tom Farrey, Kessler—a labor attorney and partner at Winston & Strawn, LLP—filed an antitrust suit in New Jersey federal court on Monday on behalf of current and former college football and basketball players that challenges the NCAA's amateur athletics model.

"In no other business—and college sports is big business—would it ever be suggested that the people who are providing the essential services work for free. Only in big-time college sports is that line drawn," Kessler told ESPN.com.

NCAA president Mark Emmert
NCAA president Mark EmmertNick Laham/Getty Images

Should the NCAA fear this latest challenge to its financial structure?


Kessler helped bring free agency to the NFL and has worked extensively with the player's unions for both the NFL and NBA. According to Bloomberg.com, he was the centerpiece of his firm's college sports division, which was established for the specific purpose of chipping away at the power of the NCAA.

In other words, this is just his first move, and it is perhaps the most concerning development for the NCAA since the Ed O'Bannon case started.

Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

Toss in the attempt by Northwestern football players to unionize, the addition of then-current players to the O'Bannon suit last year as well as the one filed last week on behalf of former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston, and the snowball is starting to roll downhill.

We've been moving towards an era in college athletics with more money available for athletes for quite some time. Full cost of attendance stipends, marketing trust funds available upon graduation and other methods of player payment have been bandied about for quite some time.

But those are "slow drip" solutions to a complicated issue; Kessler's suit could conceivably open up the flood gates.

It simplifies things and asks for an injunction that removes a limit on compensation, which would allow players to capitalize on what they're worth in the free market.

He's not the first labor lawyer to take on the NCAA, and he won't be the last—but he's the best. He's the guy people go to in order to achieve real, meaningful reform.

Is it a coincidence that his suit was filed on the Monday of the first week of the NCAA men's basketball tournament? He told USA Today's George Schroeder that it had nothing to do with the tournament, but common sense says it does. At no other time is NCAA profitability at its most visible, and if you're going to make a splash, now's the time to do it.

If you haven't wrapped your arms around the idea of significant change in the college athletics landscape, it's time to start. Kessler will make sure it happens.