On Tuesday, a class-action antitrust lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in Connecticut that seeks to change the Ivy League’s system of awarding financial aid to athletes based only on financial need. The two plaintiffs, current Brown University women’s basketball player Grace Kirk and former Brown men’s basketball player Tamenang Choh, are bringing the lawsuit “on behalf of a class of fellow current and former Ivy League collegiate athletes.” The Ivy League Agreement, which is at the heart of the lawsuit, is a system that does not award athletic scholarships, and the lawsuit alleges that this amounts to unlawful price fixing in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The allegation claims that this agreement is “per se illegal. It is naked restraint of trade among horizontal competitors.” The lawsuit is aiming to bring Ivy League athletics into the 21st century by subjecting these universities’ treatment of Ivy League athletes to the antitrust laws.
The Ivy League is the only Division I league that does not offer athletic scholarships, and this issue has been brewing for several years. In 2021, a pair of 1972 Penn graduates, Alan Cotler and Robert Litan, both attorneys, sent a letter to the presidents of the eight Ivy League schools and assorted others within the Ivy leadership structure with an eight-page memo calling into question whether the Ivy League will be able to continue to ban athletic scholarships. They said they did not get a response from any Ivy administrators.
The Ivy League’s history is noted, with the original Ivy League Agreement in 1954 prohibiting athletic scholarships. The Ivy League athletics model is built upon the foundational principle that student-athletes should be representative of the wider student body, including the opportunity to receive need-based financial aid. The Ivy League has officially endorsed the NCAA’s NIL policy but has yet to offer athletic scholarships.
The plaintiffs allege that absent the Ivy League Agreement, these schools would determine unilaterally, and in competition with each other, how many athletic scholarships to provide, by sport, and in what amounts. The suit notes that Choh, from Lowell, Mass., played for Brown’s men’s basketball team from 2017-22, and that Kirk, from Duluth, Minn., has played for the women’s basketball team. Each received at least one other “full-cost-of-attendance” athletic scholarship offer from another school, according to the suit, noting that Brown did not cover the full cost of attendance for either plaintiff.
The plaintiffs claim that not awarding athletic scholarships to athletes who merit them is “unfair,” and the Ivy League is hiding behind their non-profit status to mask their true motives for doing so. The suit alleges that the Ivy League schools “engage in anticompetitive and illegal behavior by conspiring to unlawfully limit the amount of financial aid that they offer to their student-athletes in connection with their athletic participation.” The plaintiffs argue that the Ivy League is a monopoly and that they are using their power to fix the price of an Ivy League education by colluding with each other to deny athletes the chance to negotiate for scholarships with schools that could offer them.
This issue has national implications and a bearing on the future of collegiate athletics. The lawsuit could potentially end the Ivy League’s long-standing policy of providing financial aid based on need only, which could prompt other Division I schools to follow suit. The lawsuit could also lead to a new era of college athletics, one in which student-athletes are compensated fairly for their efforts on the field, and the Ivy League will no longer be able to hide behind their non-profit status to deny athletes what they rightfully deserve.